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Armored Core: Burning Path

By William Dunn


Everyday Combat

  "Ok, that's the third Gibbon I've seen now"

  "No, that's numb- have you even been paying attention?"

  "Of course! I just said that's the third I've seen!"

  "Then why do I have 5 tagged right now?"

  "You're clearly doing something wrong."

  "I swear, if I move to your position and spot those two extra Gibbons I'm gonna sm-"

  "Elijah, calm down, geeze I just spotted the other two now. Stupid building was in the way."

  Elijah sighed, letting his head hang. Thomas had a rather consistent record of missing details but completely missing 2 MTs was not to be brushed aside. He clicked the radio on again, "So we have 5 confirmed Gibbons, what else anything we should be worried about?" Elijah paused for the reply.

  Uhhhhhhhh" Tom's voice crackled back at him, "No that's all I've got for now." While he didn't trust Tom's assessment of the situation entirely, he couldn't exactly find much more to add. As they were both some distance away from their target, their ACs in a low power mode to avoid detection. With his radar running in a passive setting, he could only track active targets at a short distance. Like this, it was best used to notice something moving near you, than trying to search for something any decent distance away. However he knew that keeping a low profile helped avoid detection, another reason this mission was being carried out at night. The darkness allowed them to remain nearly invisible His radio hissed to life again, "Not to sound like I don't know what's happening, but what exactly are we achieving by being here?"

  "Honestly", Elijah replied now staring at the radar screen, "I have no idea, we saw the mission, pay looked good, eating is sorta important, as is paying for AC maintenance, so we took it. Not really much else too it." The blip he'd been watching vanished, had it been closer he might have been concerned.

  "So what, we just take their money and do what they tell us?"

  If he wasn't restrained to the seat he'd have smacked his head onto the monitor in front of him. Clicking the mic on, Elijah said harshly, "Tom, for God's sake how long have you been doing this? Why is it now that you're asking this question? In the middle of a job?" He could almost hear the sound of Tom sulking.

  The reply came back quieter than before, "Damn man it was just a thought". As much as Elijah wanted to soothe his guilt by apologising, but the three new signals on his radar caught his attention.

  "Tom, do you have a visual on the three to our 2 o'clock?" While it wasn't exactly a problem, keeping track of any extra forces moving in the area would mean less surprises for them when it came to actually engaging. Tom's voice came back sounding bored.

  "Yep, can confirm that's three Mi-24P gunships. Not entirely sure what convinced them to coax them back to life but hey we've got them tagged now, won't be any trouble." Elijah thought for a second after hearing this, Is this it? Who the hell pays for a two Raven mission when a goddamn rookie could do this. He opened up a second channel on his radio, "Operator, we're calling it, final tally is five GBN-02s, around a company of infantry with respective vehicles and now three Mi-24P gunships." The reply was nearly instant.

  "Alright, you're clear to move then. It's a cake walk so do it fast, clean and come home for a paycheck."

  Elijah grinned, "Alrighty! You catch that Tom? We got a green light to go loud." Turning in his seat to a screen off the side, he set about restarting the primary generator.

  "Oh don't worry I'm way ahead of you!" The glee in his voice was easy to hear even over the low-power connection. Elijah could hear the dull hum of the generator grow louder as it spooled up.

  "We'll prioritise taking out their long-range communications first, then start on the Gibbons." Elijah told Tom as the last few displays and readouts lit up. "Confirming mission area is one point two klicks to our north. Mission objective, clear mission area of all hostile forces and destroy all critical structures. AC Havok switching to combat mode"

  "Confirming mission area", Tom echoed back in acknowledgement, "confirming mission objective. AC Jackhammer switching to combat mode".

  Now running at full power, both Havok and Jackhammer rose from their crouched positions. Standing just over ten meters tall, the Armored Core was something that instantly captured everyone's attention on the battlefield, a bipedal machine designed with the sole purpose of not only surviving, but succeeding in all combat situations. Armored Cores are piloted solely by Ravens, people that hire themselves and their custom war machines out to the massive Corporations that run the world today. To offset their considerable cost, Ravens pride themselves on being the undisputed rulers of the battlefield, able to fight as an army onto themselves. The only thing that can reliably take a Raven down, is a better Raven. But due to the close nature of all living together, Ravens place a high value on each other's lives, doing their utmost to only disable, not kill their opponent.

  But today, in this mission, Elijah knew that Thomas and himself were the only two Ravens here, meaning that all targets were fair game.

  Havok's boosters flared to life as it began to slide forwards, carving up tracks into the ground. Elijah's radar marked Jackhammer following closely behind, keeping pace. "Alright Tom, light 'em up!" He janked the controls left and Havok slide smoothly out of the way as Jackhammer's rocket pods rotated into a firing position on its back mounts.

  "Two salvos going out!" Tom shouted as he lined Jackhammer up, "Move around the left hand side of the base once the com' tower is down!" Turning to the right slightly, Elijah could see the flashes of rocket fire from the two launchers on Jackhammer's shoulders, rockets tracing brief streaks of light in the dark as they sailed through the air. Only a moment later they impacted, explosions sending shudders through the ground, flashes of light bouncing off the clouds above them, the dull glow of fires starting. Two rockets struck the large steel tower with several dishs on, the explosion ripping the beams apart. In only a moment it buckled, collapsing on itself throwing up dust and fire. Tom had brought the shock, now Elijah could bring the awe.

  Shifting Havok's weight right, the AC slid towards the base. Havok's typical loadout was a pair of machine guns in each hand with a pair of Auto-Seeking missile launchers on his back mounts. Smaller auxiliary AS missile launchers were mounted onto the shoulder extension points. An AC's Fire Control System allows for independent control of weapons on a left and right basis, so a Raven can fire two weapons at the same time, but only as long as each belongs to a different side of the AC. The extension mount runs on a separate system allowing it to be operated simultaneously with the two currently selected weapons giving an AC 3 weapons at its disposal with another 2 able to be swapped to on the fly.

  Elijah switched from his machine guns to the missile launchers as he flared Havok's boosters, pushing the AC into the air. Clearing the buildings, he now had a clear line of sight on most targets in the area. Giving the missiles a second to arm, he squeezed the trigger and in an instant, twelve warheads streaked away from him. Each missile contained enough computing power and networking to determine target threat levels and autonomously dedicating missiles to each target. Two Gibbons that were moving across a large courtyard took three missiles each, the warhead's directed blast boiling away armour, hydrolics, GBN-02s stood no chance against AC level weaponry.

  The remaining missiles guided themselves into clumps of infantry scrambling for cover in the chaos caused by Tom's rocket barrage. They had literally nothing that could touch an AC, even if they managed to catch it off guard, even if they scored a direct hit with a portable anti-tank launcher, the best result would be catching it's attention. In this situation, they were useless. Havok touched down and the missile launchers rotated back as Elijah brought his two machine guns up. His FCS compensated, changing to suit direct fire weapons. Another Gibbon rounded the corner, twin barreled machine gun in its right arm blazing away, chunks of the walls and ground scattering around, dirt flying. Havok's weight shifted left as it's boosters flared, the AC sliding sideways avoiding the hail of rounds.

  "Tom, what's your position?" He asked. Havok cleared the corner, the Gibbon advancing on him earlier now in front of him, raising both weapons, the FCS lighting a solid red on both sights, a confirmed lock. He squeezed both triggers, bracing Havok for the recoil. The two barrels roaring to life, spewing out rounds. The Gibbon didn't stand a chance, blindsided and unprepared the hail of rounds cut it to pieces, shells punching through the thin armour, cutting electronic cable and wire, blowing servos apart. Against an AC, a Gibbon could never stand on equal footing.

  Tom's reply came though, "I cut through the right hand side of the base, taken out two Gibbons and two of the gunships, lost the third, could be headed your way!"

  Elijah flicked his radar from passive to active, avoiding detection no longer really being a priority. "Alright, I dealt with the last three Gibbons, I'- ack shit!" He was shaken by a blast to his side, reacting, he flung Havok in the opposite direction, back into the open where he could get a good look. Scanning his head around, he couldn't see his attacker, but realised he should probably answer Tom's yelling, "I'm fine! Something hit me, don't worry I'll find it." His eyes flicked to the radar, a blip showing to his 11 o'clock. Scanning his vision, he picked out the silhouette of a helicopter, an instant later, a flash as a missile peeled away from its right wing stub, weaving its way through the air trailing a control wire behind it. Elijah tensed up as the missile closed, waiting for the right moment.

  Come on come on come on aaaannnnnddddd... The missile was barely 20 meters from him when he threw Havok to the side, the missile streaking past him, harmlessly blowing the wall of a nearby building apart. Before the Hind could attempt another shot, the auxiliary AS launchers on Havok's shoulders opened, four missiles flying ahead. Elijah watched as the missiles picked out the gunship, curling sideways tracking it. Breaking sideways and banking heavily, the Mi-24 popped flare and chaff countermeasures, trying to confuse the missiles. Only one took the bait, curling away, slamming into the rooftop of a low building. The other three continued on unfazed, one taking the entire tail off while the other two punched into the hull and cockpit, the entire helicopter exploding into a fireball, scattering metal and fire across the base.

  Havok ground to a halt, Elijah turning the AC around, scanning the head piece across the open courtyard he was standing in, the smoke making it difficult to see much. Peeking up at the radar screen, the screen was clear save for a single signal, a green square closing on him, indicating a registered friendly IFF tag, Jackhammer. "That's gotta be it all targets down. They really want us to level the place? Fires are gonna spread and turn this place to ash, waste of munitions if you ask me." Tom aired his opinion, which was on Elijah agreed with.

  "Yeah, I'm calling it in," he reopened the channel to the operator, "Operator, this is Havok, all enemies destroyed, conf-" the channel was overridden from the other end.

  "Havok, I have four signals inbound, looks like dropships. Confirming additional mission objective, destroy the enemy reinforcements. Destruction of base no longer considered mission critical. Confirm!"

  "Shit," Elijah cursed through his teeth, "the hell are we dealing with now?" It was one thing for unexpected events during missions but those four dropships could be carrying just about anything. Ravens were well aware of the risks during missions but it didn't make it any less annoying.

  "Don't sweat it," Tom said with rather misplaced cheer in his voice as far as Elijah felt, "we can take them, it's not like these independents could afford to throw anything serious at us. Right?" Elijah was on the same line of thinking, but was still on edge. "What was the ETA on those incoming?" Tom asked as he looked around for any sign of the dropships.

  "I have no idea, didn't say." A second later, at the very edge of his radar, four blips appeared. "Contacts, four incoming at my 4 o'clock." Elijah turned Havok to face them, ready to fire more of his AS missiles, but as he did, the dropship's bellies opened, dropping their cargo from a low altitude.

  "Goddamnit they dropped early! Tom, move around the right side, I'm gonna go high and try and confirm what the hell they are!" Elijah shouted to Tom.

  "Got it!" Tom answered as Jackhammer's boosters flared to life and the AC began to slide away. While Elijah still needed to confirm what it was they were now facing, the sound of whatever it was hitting the ground didn't fill him with confidence. Whatever they were, they were at the very least, extremely heavy. Havok's boosters roared, lifting the AC skywards. Elijah panned his head over the drop point, the instant he spotted the four targets, his HUD lit up, a lock warning indicating an enemy FCS had locked onto him. On instinct alone, Elijah threw Havok to the right as something blew by him, missing by what felt like inches.

  Killing Havok's boosters, the AC dropped like a stone, slamming into the ground, sinking low to absorb the impact. In the split second before evading their fire, Elijah had confirmed the targets. It was probably as bad as another Raven. "Tom! Tom, pull back! Disengage! Pull back to the courtyard! They're Behemoths goddamnit!" Elijah sent Havok sliding backwards weapons up in case they rounded the corner.

  "Wait, really?" Tom sounded incredulous, "How the hell do they afford Behemoths?" Tom was asking questions that Elijah equally wanted answers to. BMH-11s, commonly referred to as 'Behemoths', were one of GAs largest and most heavily armoured MTs available on the market. Aside from being nearly two meters taller than a GBN-02 and weighing nearly three times as much, their most distinguishing features were the enormous metal shield fitted to their left arm used in tandem with an extremely large bore recoilless rifle colloquially called a 'bazooka' that fired high-explosive shells. This and their thick armour meant they were slow, but abnormally difficult to kill, needing either overwhelming explosive firepower or an armour piercing weapon along the lines of a back mounted sniper cannon, which wasn't something either of them were currently equipped with.

  Being slow, they could be dealt with on their own, or even in pairs by moving faster than they could position their shield, allowing repeated hits on their body. However, four in a cohesive group posed a serious problem, they could put out a truly worrying  amount of fire while having enough shields to make consistent hits almost impossible to pull off. "I have no idea!" Answered Elijah, "hold on a second, just get to me and we'll sort something out." He reopened the operator's channel, "Operator, enemy reinforcements confirmed, four BMH-11s, I repeat, four BMH-11s, neither Havok nor Jackhammer carry appropriate weapons to deal with this much armour. Please advise!" He hoped the edge to his voice carried the sincerity of his worry.

  Thankfully, the operator replied immediately, "Seriously? Goddamnit alright. Mission objective destroy enemy reinforcements now optional, you may leave mission area to confirm mission success, confirm?"

  Elijah sighed with relief, they'd lose out on a bonus but not have to risk their lives doing something stupid. "Confirmed, destroying reinforcements is optional." He closed the channel, suddenly realising Tom hadn't arrived yet. "Tom, where are you?" He asked, somewhat worried. An explosion around the area he last saw the Behemoths confirmed his fears. "Tom! You'd better not be engaging those MTs!" Barking the words out as he pushed Havok forwards, thrusters burning. There was not only the issue of Tom not being equipped to take them on, but he had been a Raven an even shorter amount of time than Elijah himself had been. Another blast shook the base, fire and smoke billowing into the sky.

  Tom's voice suddenly crackled through, "Elijah are you just gonna sit around and watch or do you wanna do something about this?!" Elijah wanted to drop kick him.

  "I said pull back you fucking idiot! What part of disengage means charge headlong into the enemy?!" The building to the right of him exploded outwards and Jackhammer flew past Havok, slamming into the next building on the other side of the path. Tom's AC was not in good condition, multiple blackened sections of armour, some plates cracked and splintered. One section of amour across the chest was missing entirely, the exposed wiring and metal framework smoldering. "Jesus christ are you alright?" He asked as he dropped his left hand machine gun and grabbed onto one shoulder of Jackhammer, starting to drag him down the street as fast as possible. If the Behemoths caught them here then serious problems came into play.

   Tom wasn't responding to Elijah but a readout on one of Elijah's screens showed a pulse, meaning at the very least he was alive. Flaring Havok's boosters, Elijah tried desperately to drag Jackhammer faster, succeeding only in ripping a handful of metal away from the shoulder. "For God's sake Tom why is your AC such a sack of shit!" Cursing more to try and make himself feel better than to actually achieve anything of value. As he feared, a Behemoth slowly made its way around the corner, shield raised with the barrel of its bazooka poking around the side.

  "Ahhhhh shit come on Tom, wake the fuck up I can't fight dragging your sorry ass!" In a vain effort to deter the Behemoth, while dragging with his left hand, Elijah fired with the machine gun in his right, simultaneously firing off his auxiliary AS launchers. As he expected, the missiles slammed into the shield, doing little more than scorching the surface, distorting the top layer of metal but nothing more, the machine gun rounds doing little more than scratching it. The barrel of the Behemoth's bazooka flared as it fired back, Elijah had no time to react, expecting the shell to hit him square on. Instead, it connected with the head of Tom's AC, turning it into a grenade, blasting shrapnel wide.

  Elijah gave up trying to get Tom back in the fight, as trying to fight without your primary optics and sensor array was difficult at best, plain impossible in any other situation. Another Behemoth rounded the corner, prompting Elijah to take drastic measures. Jackhammer's weighing me down, so let's lose some weight! With that thought, he tossed aside his machine gun and jettisoned all his AS launchers. With his now free hand, he forcibly ripped Jackhammer's rocket launchers out of their mountings, one of the Behemoths assisted him in its own way, with a bazooka shell blowing Jackhammer's shotgun to pieces. Tom is gonna be so pissed when he comes to. He opened the operator's channel, "Operator, Jackhammer is out of commission, I'm pulling us both out, declaring mission success, I need the transporter ready to leave the moment we get there!"

  The operator chimed back, "Understood, transporter is ready and waiting at the pre-designated location, be aware if you take too long or those Behemoths follow you too close the transporter is within its rights to leave both of you behind."

  Elijah didn't want to even consider getting left behind. "Don't worry, we'll come home." The drop in weight eventually paid off, with Havok gaining momentum while dragging Jackhammer behind it. The Behemoths managed to blow one of Jackhammer's legs off which considerably reduced its weight. But their own inability to move any faster than a constant stride prevented them from keeping up with Elijah and Tom. Before long, the 'Leaving Mission Area' warning flashed up in front of him, something normally to keep an eye out for when fighting as leaving a mission early forfeited all rewards, payments etc and the mission was counted as a failure on your account. Typically an embarrassing mistake to make for anyone who wasn't considered a rookie.

  A few seconds later, the onscreen notice was replaced by another, this one in green saying 'Mission Success!'. What would normally be a moment to celebrate was instead, one of him continuing to drag his unconscious friend across the arid ground. There was virtually no life in these parts, the odd resilient shrub but that was about it, just dust, dirt and baked ground. Only minutes after leaving the mission area, Elijah began seeing friendly signals on his radar.

  The signals were several modified GBN-02 MTs, ones designed for civilian operations like heavy lifting. The makeshift landing strip was prepared to allow for a stealth approach to the base, ordinarily, Havok and Jackhammer would have been simply dropped out the back of the transporter mid flight. Elijah quickly scanned local channels, finding the transporter and opening a link with them, "This is the AC Havok, you our ride out of here?"

  The reply came quickly, "Havok this is your ticket out, climb on board, get strapped in and we'll be gone." Elijah grinned at hearing it.

  "Thank god, I think I need a shower."
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