PROSPECT < EARTH
1) Destroy terrorist group known as the E.O.T.
2) Infiltrate to Retrieve and Confiscate Important Technology.
‘Okay people, we’re approaching Combat Zone Alpha. Suits on and deploy your avatar.’
The hangar bay was one of many housing simulator units used by soldiers to control the combat drones. In other hangars across the field were similar operations using other types of drone. Combat models of aircraft, and dog and ram drones had already been deployed and were heading south with the convoy. There had been a time when fewer people were needed for the armed forces, as a quantum computer could manage thousands of drones at a time. What had happened in recent times was perhaps more of a choice than a necessity as AI, limited as it had remained for hundreds of years, had been replaced by the best and most instinctive intelligence of all.
Men and women, specifically trained combatants, were now seated in their pods and connected to the various types of drone. They could see, hear and act via the use of the machines and in this hangar – housing five hundred pods – were the best regarded drones of all: the human drones. Two hangars were dedicated to a thousand machines designed to manoeuvre as instinctively and fluently as possible for their operators. No one went into combat for real any more, except for those on the African continent who would stand against this flash invasion. They had no such technology, meaning this operation should be swift and encounter no serious opposition.
Colonel Phillips watched as the specialist ensemble of soldiers finished the process of uploading to their machines from within the pod units. He then walked to his own pod, lifted the lid, and sat down within the small chamber. The inside of the metal case was virtually empty apart from a reclining seat with several injection syringes surrounding the headrest. The seat fell back a little and he waited and braced himself for the inevitable first stab of a needle into the top of his neck.
Transfer pads had once been used to interface with the machine. Now, due to some bright spark advising that deep penetration contact with the spinal cord was better, the pads had been replaced with monstrously thick needles. The interface had not improved and the only real benefit was that if a person’s body flinched or jolted during combat, the pads would no longer fall off or come away from that essential point of contact.
Colonel Phillips felt the back of his neck as a ten-second countdown began. The scars from previous injections were now thick and bulbous, yet the ferocity of the needles would be accurate and puncture the very same locations without any trouble. Phillips inhaled from a small canister to allow a chemical agent to make its way through his body and prevent any bleeding from the injection sites. The first injection was administered: a tiny prick that would numb the rest. A second, third and fourth followed in quick succession.
‘Neural-synaptic synchronisation complete.’
A fuzzy feeling filled the colonel’s head. He opened his eyes, yet they were not his own. He stood up, looked to his left and then his right. A vast proportion of the machines was located on the war path many miles south at the border with Nigeria. His machine, the one he had now become for the operation, stood next to many others on the airfield outside the hangar bay where his actual body was located, within the pod. Over a hundred machines began to run at speed towards the jets, and Phillips moved towards his own F250 fighter plane.
‘Colonel Phillips, this is Command, patching through Captain Jarvis of Air Drone 2032.’
‘Understood,’ Phillips said in a hollow, mechanised voice. His machine spoke his thoughts even though the thought projected a response automatically through to the command centre.
‘Captain Jarvis, I need a sit rep.’
‘Free as a bird and soaring like an eagle, Colonel. Full complement moving on schedule. No sign of hostile forces. One moment – bogey spotted at seven hundred feet, eight klicks south of our location.’
Phillips commanded his machine – seated in the cockpit of the fighter jet – to receive visuals from various drones now surveying the area. Simultaneously he launched the jet vertically into the air. He set the craft for stratospheric altitude so he could be on site in less than ten minutes. Within seconds the world below became a map and the jet headed south. Phillips watched as the live feed showed him the unknown craft hovering above the vast jungle canopy. The view projected into his left eye was quite clear and, on zooming in to gain an even clearer image, Phillips became very concerned.
‘Jarvis, what the hell is that? I seem to be having trouble identifying bogey at your location.’
‘This is Flag General Dean. Be advised that this is the craft logged from the Earth intrusion on September 18th. Craft is conjectured to be possibly alien in origin. Approach with extreme caution.’
‘General Dean, this is Colonel Phillips. Why have we not received information on said craft prior to this?’
‘All information is classified, you have permission to engage only if fired upon, Colonel. Is that understood?’
‘Copy that, General.’ Colonel Phillips noted the formation of over eight hundred jets surrounding his own while he thought about this new report of intelligence from General Dean. Arseholes! The operation should have been child’s play, yet even this assumption depended on whether there would be repercussions from other states that had opposed this operation, that some had deemed to be an act of war; Phillips, along with the rest of his contemporaries had been led to believe that a substantial opposition was unlikely.
Phillips noted that the Germans had arrived with another squadron of jets equal to his own.
‘Colonel Phillips, this is Colonel Weber approaching with Beta Squadron on flank position, please acknowledge.’
‘Received and acknowledged. Have you received update on foreign craft?’
‘Affirmative. Approaching with caution.’
‘Ground Team One, Captain Jones, please give the order to halt all vehicles on encroach path east to west, we have a situation due south of your location,’ Phillips said.
‘Roger that, Colonel. Bogey has been spotted, convoy will be held until further orders.’
Phillips looked around and saw the mighty force of sixteen hundred jets swarming around him. His own jet passed over the mass of vehicles below. Enormous jungle crunchers at the front of the convoy had stopped creating a path for all combat vehicles, which had also come to a halt. Ahead and hovering above the jungle canopy, thousands of small fighter drones waited. They were small jets which had no human drones on board but combat avatars directly linked as their pilots.
Further ahead of these, motionless and without making any sound, the alien craft hovered and waited. It was jet black with smooth surfaces reflecting the sun as though covered with mirrors. It was strange and yet familiar in a way for it had eight wings like a butterfly, except they were sharp and rhomboid in shape and they moved at two main points attached to a narrow mid-section. It had a bulbous back end while the top half of what could only be described as its body was narrower with a large, sharp harpoon for its head, or perhaps cockpit. It could be thought of as a spider with wings and no legs, or some insect perhaps, except this thing was enormous with a wing span of a hundred metres. On the underneath of its body, blue pulsating light emanated through what appeared to be thinner transparent plating that shimmered and rotated. This could be assumed to be its engines or even lungs.
‘This is Captain Vale of the gunship Shadow Light. Please acknowledge our location at three thousand feet above set jet height of combat zone.’
Three thousand and thirty eight lights winked on the cockpit display of Phillips’ jet. Jets and drones alike, all linked to human pilots, confirmed they knew the combat zone parameters beneath the colossal airship that had arrived to offer support.
‘Colonel Phillips, this is Captain Jones. Do we have permission to set blanket defence?’
‘Position tanks and silos but do not activate unless air support is compromised. I do not want cross-fire zones, no matter how accurate these machines are.’
Phillips sat within his avatar – he had become his machine, seated within a jet hovering and waiting as the unusual craft did the very same thing only a few miles away. Thousands of hovering air drones and jets created a deep hum, sounding like a great swarm of bees. On the ground, thousands of combat vehicles, tanks, trucks, dog and ram drones, along with human drones also waited. Above his position the airship floated as perhaps the most deadly killing machine of all, and further above this there orbited a weapon satellite. A laser cannon held its position as further backup.
There was enough firepower at this location to obliterate a country the size of Nigeria within a few hours and render it a grave of ash. This was not the objective. This operation was meant to be swift and accurate, and cause a minimum of collateral damage. Now Phillips wondered at the thing that had stopped this mighty war machine in its path. The unknown caused fear, and taking a risk might prove essential to the timetable of this operation which was slipping away fast. Silence engulfed the world as Colonel Phillips considered that this thing might be destroyed with ease, and it could not cover the whole width of the battlefield that stretched across three hundred miles of convoys heading south.
‘Captain Jarvis, come in.’
‘Order one of your team to send in a drone. Full identification notice protocols need to be followed.’
An air drone flew ahead over the canopy, its gunmetal jade hull almost disappearing as it shot over the sea of green beneath. Anyone below this machine would also struggle to see it as its hull projected the same colour as the sky through adaptive light emitters. The drone slowed and hovered twenty metres from the alien craft. The alien machine appeared to watch and tilted its attitude towards the human machine.
‘This is a message from all allied forces of the United States of America and the United States of Europe. Please identify yourself.’
The alien craft did nothing.
‘You are in the direct path . . .’
The alien craft fired a bolt of energy at the drone. It melted and dropped from the sky, hurtling in a molten blob into the forest canopy below.
Phillips gave the order to engage as the craft opened fire on multiple targets as it moved. Faster and faster, more projectiles of energy found targets in all directions. Drones and jets fell from the sky en masse as the hostile craft moved up, down, left and right with impossible and mechanised accuracy as if a dragonfly above a pond.
The swarm of drones and jets fired missiles and fifty calibre rounds from stampede cannons. The airship fired one-tonne bolts that managed to hit the target repeatedly. The alien craft jerked with each impact yet it deflected the rounds and missiles with some sort of shield that could only be seen as forked lightning flashing upside down and away from the alien craft’s hull.
The human aircraft continued to fall like molten rain from the sky. Human drone pilots ejected from the jets and parachuted to the ground; there was no sense in wasting the machines by allowing them to crash. Some of the drones were half melted and on fire as they fell to earth, and by now the ground battalions were running around as though an ant’s nest had been disturbed.
Tanks, trucks and drones alike were pelted by the debris of their own destroyed air support; the world below was on fire as the jungle burned. Colonel Phillips took his jet to high altitude and neared the airship for cover. In the medium distance he could see the alien creature hover and fire relentlessly at the allied aircraft. Energy bolt after energy bolt snaked their way with staggering accuracy.
From above, an energy beam shot down and hit the black beast dead on. Its shields shimmered and took the heat blast of over one million degrees. The craft tilted upwards and fired its own narrow blast of high-yield energy into the sky. In orbit above the combat zone, the military satellite melted and fell into Earth’s atmosphere. It lit up like a flare falling in the night sky.
The craft took more hits from the one-tonne rounds and turned its attention to the airship. As it rose, the Zeppelin-styled military vessel fired a staggering display of missiles and stampede turrets. All found their mark and yet the alien craft appeared completely unscathed.
‘We’re losing this battle,’ Phillips voiced over the comms. ‘We need to retreat now.’
The alien craft bombarded the airship from fore to aft down its port flank. The thick metal plating surrounding the ship’s inflated innards melted, allowing helium to burst out along the two thousand metres of hull. The ship listed then toppled over. It sank through the air until it eventually hit the ground, crushing hundreds of drone assets. Something within the ship exploded, releasing a blast that snuffed out a vast portion of the raging inferno taking hold of the jungle in one massive gust.
One of the thousands of bolts fired by the craft headed directly towards Phillips’ jet. He manoeuvred but the bolt of light seemed to know where he was headed before he arrived. He hit the ejector seat.
The canopy blew away and he shot out as the jet turned to vapour. Phillips then watched the full horror of the drone massacre from this new and open perspective. He may have been in a drone, had become the very robust drone and was out of danger, yet with such an immersion into technology he felt that he was really there, naked and floating in Hell. As Phillips parachuted to earth, he saw the alien craft move towards him. An eternity crept in as though the world had paused. The craft leapt on him, was right next to him. It seemed to look at him and tilt itself as though analysing him.
Phillips woke within the metal pod. He was drenched in sweat and his head spun wildly. He vomited violently and sat for a moment to find his bearings. The pod opened to reveal chaos had erupted at the base. People were running around shouting this and that; Phillips was not sure what. He climbed out and grabbed the nearest person he could find.
‘What the hell happened?’ Phillips screamed.
‘World War Four just happened!’ the man shouted back.