When Jim heard the call, he knew the kid had to be wrong. There hadn’t been an active airpower since the middle of the Ice War. All the mass-converters that powered them were as dead as the pilots who had flown them. He looked to the 30 vehicles in his Caravan. The crews began to respond to the reports, some asking for confirmation, others getting ready for a fight.
The centerpiece of the caravan was a hydrogen-driven, long-haul, driverless semi-truck named “Abe Vigoda”. Equipped with 16 anti-personnel reload-ready sandblasters and a Southern Cross 1 megajoule rail gun, it was a beast. Abe was made to ride the razor-sharp deserts and repel rage-ridden sand pirates. Commanded by the will of the mighty Jim Tucker; Abe, was a world-class battlewagon.
Jim climbed to the deck of his semi-truck trailer. They were the only caravan left in the drive port with the others having left at the break of dawn. The enclosure was protected by two tower-mounted turrets, but no one was in them. If this was an attack they would be on their own.
“This better be a joke, Grey,” Jim said looking into the desert.
“They’re flying over now, we’re on our way! “Kendrick replied for Grey across the comm.
Jim could hear the aircraft fly over in the background. They would get here before the boys. He took a deep breath and made a slow precise exhale. He could hear the deep rolling growl now with his own ears. The sound of fully powered Higgs Sails coming from the horizon was like the memory of a predator hunting him. They were the same as in Grey’s drones but drew in thousands of times more energy. Jim’s body tensed as the deep bear growls of the sails washed over the caravan.
Jim had a good set of roadies under him and trusted none would bolt in panic. Their vehicles were their lives, their jobs, and their homes. All were armed, even the children. It might not be much of a fight, but it would be a fight. Having dealt with many airframes in the war, he knew they couldn’t take them out even with Kendrick and Grey.
‘Grey said fast movers, fast to him, but these weren’t supersonic,’ Jim thought. This meant air-to-ground or cargo transports. He hoped for the latter.
Jim looked at the lay of the land hoping to see something he hadn’t before. There wasn’t much cover. The area around Blythe was nothing more than low-lying hills and flat empty waste. There were some foothills and canyons to the north, but those places were filled with sand pirates and cultists.
“Alright, ladies and gentlemen open the capacitors on your rides but don’t run. We’re safer near the port than we are on the open road. Safety in numbers. Let’s keep everything locked and loaded. Abe, get that railer ready,” shouted Jim to his people and his truck.
“I hear ya boss, but don’t forget she’s leaky,” a calm, notably synthetic, voice replied from the trailer truck. Abe was pure AI, all personality came from linguistic algorithms and clever programming. Not meant for more than auto navigation, Jim and Grey had managed to upgrade him to run a pirate-rigged weapons system. Jim knew it wasn’t meant to fight air units but ordered the railgun ready anyway.
“I’ve got eyes, West!” someone shouted.
They were low, maybe five hundred feet off the ground, airframes, subsonic craft that weren’t much more than flying gun turrets. Originally built as remote attack drones, they were retrofitted when the cloud collapsed. They were never meant for a human pilot and their underbelly cockpits were haphazardly added on after the fact.
In the morning sun, the massive Higgs sails were barely visible, but their hum could be felt. The airframes looked like giant flying kidneys with oversized guns flanking for arms and two multi-vectored Higgs Pods for legs. Jim thought they looked like cartoon jellybeans, comical at best. He understood that there was nothing in the caravan, except Abe’s magnetic rail gun, that could harm them. He looked again for Kendrick.
The two airframes were brightly colored, one red, and one blue. Both shot over the caravan without a pause. The deep roar of their engines no longer compressed by movement revealed their true intimidating sounds. The arrays, mass reactor, and compressed air thrust all united and sounded like a low idling combustion engine mixed with the roars of a hundred bears.
The red one held a large full cargo net strapped between its gun pods. The two craft hovered at the edge of the caravan momentarily and then the red one with the cargo bolted north following the riverbed. The blue one stayed leaving only one airframe, and that was better odds.
This told Jim three things. First, they were geo navigating, using landmarks to find their way and they didn’t have orbital or cloud support. Second, when they split it showed that the cargo was the priority, not the attack. And third, the mobilization of airframes was expensive. Only NorCal could do it.
Guns were ready, but the blue Jellybean just hovered and watched as the Red one darted away.
Grey and Kendrick hurried to the side of the trailer both sweating and heaving from their run. Grey started to climb up on Abe’s deck. Kendrick looked questioningly at Jim.
“Kill that Jellybean,” Jim said.
Jim watched for the ‘battle mode’ transition in Kendrick that he had come to expect, but there was a flicker of hesitance. Kendrick nodded and ran to his bike.
“Take cover boy, get under Abe,” Jim ordered Grey down.
Grey climbed up on the deck close to Jim, waving his hands like a wizard, then commanded both drones high in the sky.
“I’m getting the link now, Grey. Even with this triangulating data, it will be a lucky shot. A heat source would be better,” said Abe responding to Grey’s signs and links.
“You can fly the drones from under the trailer,” Jim shouted, but he didn’t have time to parent.
The blue airframe slowly rotated towards Abe as if it had just noticed Grey in particular. Jim couldn’t make out the pilot, but he confirmed NorCal signage all over the airframe. There was a timeless moment that passed as the blue jellybean stared down Grey and Jim. Its gun pods narrowed as if it were aiming.
“Take cover, everyone!” Jim shouted as he grabbed the boy and leapt from the deck of the trailer. At 56 the jump was probably just as dangerous as having stayed up there. They hit hard, and without acknowledging any pain, Jim pulled Grey and himself under the deck.
The caravan crew’s opened fire, guns snapping uselessly against the flying machine.
“Hold fire, hold fire!” Jim shouted wanting to avoid the airframes rebuttal.
The bullets didn’t stop, the roadies all knew what this was, and they’d rather go down fighting than running.
“You mother fuckers! Stop shooting and save your ammo!” Kendrick shouted as he roared in on Celerus.
Grey and Jim looked up to see him mounted high on his bike, flare guns extended and ready to fight. Celerus was a variable suspension quad-runner, with a hydrogen-fueled, mega-amp powerplant, and four independent, all-terrain, polymorphic wheels. It was designed to go fast, ride over any surface, and keep its rider’s ass particularly comfortable. It looked like a red carbon fiber badger from space with large wheels for feet.
Celerus was a rare find and Jim and Grey had modified the bike making it one of a kind. Extra fuel pods and lights allowed it to ride far and run at night if needed. They rigged a pair of mini-launchers from a downed mech, so it could fire programmable magnesium flares. The launchers were to replace Kendrick’s hand-held flare gun. It was lost when the two duct-taped it to ‘The One’ drone as a suicide bomber a few months back.
“Stay here!” Jim said to Grey and cautiously moved from cover. Grey followed closely.
“Grey, are the flares ready?” Kendrick asked as random shots from the caravan peppered into the air.
“Flares won’t do anything to it, Kendrick. Where’s your rifle?” Jim asked.
“Somewhere in the desert. I don’t know,” Kendrick replied.
“Jesus fucking Christ, Ken! That rifle wasn’t cheap! Maybe, you should think about how hard you’re hitting the sauce?” asked Jim destroying Kendricks’s focus.
Grey nodded agreeing as it was an expensive weapon.
“We’re about to destroy a fucking jellybean murder machine and you want to lecture me on how much my gun cost you?” asked Kendrick.
“You’d get more from shooting a rifle than shooting off your mouth!” Jim shouted.
“Ooh-wee, I don’t measure up to Big Jim Tucker! Ooh-wee, and I drink too much, ooh-wee, I’m lazy!”
“I didn’t say that last part, but it’s true,” Jim said, sneering.
“I do most of the work around here!” Kendrick jabbed.
Grey tilted his head in a moderate sign of disagreement.
“Oh, great; you too? I’m in the middle of my thing, and both of you do this!” said Kendrick.
The blue airframe seemed to watch the argument, as if it were in some way entertained, then it snapped towards the west. Jim and Kendrick both turned their heads to see what it was seeing.
There wasn’t really a sound at first, just a black dot. In seconds that dot became a green blur that thundered over the encampment. It went by too fast to see clearly, but its roar was felt as rushed past faster than sound.
The blue Jellybean never stood a chance. It was instantly turned into a fireball that streaked across the sky. Wind, fire, and debris exploded over the caravan scattering people and equipment as the destroyed jellybean rained down with fire and smoke. It was almost too fast to take in. One moment there was a menacing airframe and the next a green blur had shattered it into a million burning bits.
“That was not me!” noted Kendrick.
‘This was a fast mover,’ thought Jim.
The green streak circled around and landed like a meteor in the middle of the caravan. Dirt and rocks exploded upward, vehicles were thrown on their sides and roadies tossed like rubbish, with the impact. For a moment, there was a quiet calm, as the dust slowly settled. Then the sound of hyper-metals clanging broke the pause.
Jim saw a devil from his past; a Mena/Morgan military, sky-breaker class, war seraph. It looked like a metal-plated, winged demon rising from the fall. It was one of the deadliest weapons mankind had ever built.
These war machines were older than the Ice War, older than NorCal. These were from before the collapse. Powered by the most advanced Higgs sails, guided by cloud-generated slave consciousness. It was impossible that it was here. The ice war was fought to end these things. Jim had sacrificed everything to stop NorCal. His past, no matter how much he tried to destroy it, came back.
Finally, a Giant Robot. So, how do two kids from a gene pod beat a hyper-metal, dimensionally powered, nation-eating war machine? You’ll see. Check out next week when Kendrick and Grey fight the “Grün Engle”