1.3: The Gears of War (are turning once more)

Stage 1.3:_________________
The Gears of War, part 1

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14 June 2312
Monte Estrella, Rosario, Puerto Rico
20:27 GMT -4
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Diego stood dumbstruck as he witnessed his son’s transformation into what seemed like a cheap anime character knock-off. For a few moments, he had completely forgotten what was happening around him; a mixture of awe and disbelief prevented him from reacting. An explosion from a nearby mortar quickly returned him to his senses, and he awoke to see his son darting off to do battle with the invaders.

-“Pero qué haces, hijo! Where the hell do you think you’re going? The safe house is that way!”

Arturo turned around to see his dad worrying like crazy.

-“I’ll be fine. You get to the shelter; I’ll hold them off!” He smiled reassuringly.

-“Are you crazy?! You’re going to get killed out there!” Diego was practically having a conniption now.

Arturo sighed. How typical of his father to overreact like that, he thought. Having grown up in a world wracked by constant warfare, his parents were always worried about what would happen when the war caught up to them. They tried their best to make his life a happy one, sheltering him from all suffering.

Then war knocked on their door. For three years they were running from shelter to safe house to refuge, a self-imposed internal exile triggered by the survival instinct.

When his mother died, Diego was even more overprotective of him, refusing to let him go out at all. Unable to see the world around him, Arturo became self-absorbed and apathetic. The sound of gunfire and air raid alarms were his sole companions.

It’s come a long way since then, Arturo thought. He had a gift, and with it came a huge responsibility, to himself, his family, and the world. All he wanted was for his dad to have more confidence in him.

-“Papá, trust me on this. I’m not a little kid anymore, I can take care of myself. You need to get to safety.” Another nearby explosion threatened to sweep them off their feet. -“Hurry! Just go!”

Arturo did a waving salute as he darted off to face the invading soldiers.

-“Good luck, son...”

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14 June 2312
SHION Command Post, Rosario, Puerto Rico
20:27 GMT -4
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The invading SHION forces stationed themselves on the foothills on the side of the mountain and set up a command post. They needed to rally the troops and discuss possible strategies before going in, as going after the Longinus unprepared could prove very dangerous.

-“Listen up, soldiers,” Captain Sachs said in his usual German accent, “We’re not going to let Herr General steal all the glory, are we?”

A resounding “Nein!” was heard from the group of about 400 soldiers in the rally meeting.

-“We already have the city under our control. Their resistance was pathetic. They were practically begging to be conquered!”

A loud wave of cheers and battle cries ensued.

-“But!” -The crowd fell silent again- “We cannot let ourselves fall prey to overconfidence. We were lucky the Meridian hasn’t had any involvement in this yet. However, now that we’ve captured the town, the villagers surely must have given them the alert. Those dogs are likely on their way here even as we speak.”

-“But! In the end, it shall mean no difference!” More cheers were heard. “We shall take the Longinus from right under their noses! Even if they do make it here, it will be too late! With the power of the Longinus in our hands, there is nothing -nothing- we cannot conquer! The world shall be ours for the taking! For glory! For the SHION!!”

The crowd of soldiers broke out in raucous approval, worthy of even the most fanatical of leaders. Captain Sachs’ motivational speech had quite the effect on them: troop morale was at an all-time high; their loyalty was unwavering, and their thirst for battle insatiable. With fine soldiers such as these, what could stand in their way?

Their rejoicing was quickly interrupted by a hollow-sounding explosion, followed by a blinding flash of lavender that left the soldiers dumbstruck. Even the Captain was at a loss for words as to what just happened. What if the Meridian had already arrived? Could they have already taken the Longinus?

-“Ach! Was ist dass? What the hell’s going on?”

-“Captain! We’ve received a report from the front lines. Someone’s got the Longinus already and is on the attack!”

-“WHAT?! Damn zu Hölle! If the Meridian’s behind this...”

-“No, it’s just a kid, sir! Take a look for yourself!”

The soldier showed him the video feed of the ongoing battle, which was being played on a small laptop computer. The boy cleanly impaled a pair of soldiers with one thrust of his spear; a couple of seconds later he shot up into the air, dive-bombing a fireteam stationed near some recons, sending soldiers and vehicles alike flying in all directions. Debris from what used to be an APC flew straight into the camera, and the screen went blank.

Sachs watched flabbergasted as his cannon fodder frontline troops were getting one-upped by the Longinus’ overwhelming power. He was really worried about the difficulty of his mission now; a confrontation with the Meridian would have been bad enough, but this, this was just suicide.

-“...Impossible! Illogical!How could a mere child cause so much damage to our forces?! This is unacceptable!”

-“Should we contact General Grubach, sir?”

-“No! If he finds out I’ve lost the Longinus to some kid, he’ll have my head on a platter! I’ll be the laughingstock of the entire SHION army! My rank! My career! Ruined!”

-“Sir, calm down. If we can stop him and recover the Lance before the General finds out, there is no need for such hassle, right?” said the soldier who was standing beside him, not used to seeing Herr Captain throwing a fit over a situation like this.

-“Awaiting orders, sir!”, the soldier in front of him said.

Captain Sachs quickly regained his composure. He had the support of his loyal troops; what more did he need?

-“...Ahem! Yes, well... In any case, our biggest priority is to recapture the Longinus before the Meridian can get ahold of him. There’s no time for strategy now: we must overwhelm him with full force! The future of our mission depends on it! All units; move out!!”

The assembly let out a huge battle cry. -“Victory! Honor! Glory!”

Recons, tanks, and AAs sped out of the command post, while the rest of the bloodthirsty soldiers moved by APC or by foot. Their shouting was so loud, Sachs practically had to scream so he could be heard.

He called out the two officers who were standing in the front row. They raised their right arm diagonally as a salute and approached the Captain.

-“Prepare my Parzival. I’m heading out there with the troops. Lieutenant Graves, you’re in charge. You will inform me of any further developments in this operation. Dismissed!”

Both of them said “Sir!” and gave the salute again. Captain Sachs then made his way to a 10-foot tall mech lying squat on the ground.

The SHA-1103-AS1 Parzival is the SHION’s standard assault suit. Its cockpit was a one-seater, shaped like an oval, with the SHION insignia and serial number on the front. The left arm was a 10-barrel chain-gun, while the right one had a claw for grabbing stuff. Sachs’ custom model also had two six-pod missile launchers retracted into its large round shoulders, and a massive Ceratanium-edged broadsword served as the S-Parzival’s close combat alternative.

Sachs boarded his mech and turned the key. Dozens of small lights began blinking as the control panel display flashed to life. A loud whirr filled the cockpit as the engines fired up. Growling, Captain Sachs pushed up on the controls with all his might, fueled by his desire to avenge his losing honor. The mech jerked forward as it dashed towards his objective with blazing speed.

-“Heh. You’re mine now, kid!”

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14 June 2312
Monte Estrella, Rosario, Puerto Rico
20:41 GMT -4
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-“huff... huff... Damn it! How many of them are there, anyway?”

Arturo was starting to get tired. He had just slain the 97th soldier this night, not counting all the vehicles he disabled, yet there was no end in sight to the battle. Wave after wave of enemy troops appeared in front of him. Most were quickly dispatched with a series of quick slashes and stabs, but the sheer number of attackers threatened to overwhelm him.

Arturo stared at the next battalion of infantry and assault vehicles approaching from the horizon. He estimated them to be about 200 strong, counting the dozen or so APCs and tanks.

-“Hehe... huff... I know I might’ve been a bit over-eager, but isn’t this a bit much?”

-“Don’t worry about it, mate. It’s only a couple hundred enemies. You can take them, right?” Cirvante said cynically.

-“Oh sure, easy for you to say! You’re not the one getting shot at by an entire battalion!” Arturo said, a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

-“Hey, I was just trying to give you some moral support. No need to get all fussy on me.”

-“Whatever. Let’s just focus on the battle at hand, all right?”

-“Fair enough.”

Arturo walked to the edge of the cliff, his eyes fixed on the approaching enemies below. He made a gesture with his free hand and sprouted a pair of shining white wings on his back. His aura got stronger as he spread them out and hovered about seven feet above the ground.

A few soldiers were taking potshots at him, but Arturo shrugged it off and dive-bombed them, driving his spear into the ground with all his strength. This created a shockwave that sent dozens of enemy troops and transports flying several meters high. Moments later, two tanks came at Arturo from opposite directions, pointing their barrels towards the black-haired Aleph. He did a swift air-dodge just as the cannons fired their shells, hitting each other instead.

-“Bring in the Hornet’s Nest!”, a nearby officer ordered.

Another group of soldiers with signal beams brought in what appeared to be a turtle-like vehicle with a large rotating center ring. The center section had about 30 or so holes that served as missile ports. Seconds later, the ports opened up and the Hornet’s Nest started spinning in place, taking a few moments to discern the target and get up to operating speed. Arturo stopped to look at the strange robotic tank model that had just entered the fray, both out of surprise and genuine curiosity. He’d always had an interest for robotics and other mechanical stuff, you see.

“…Huh? What the hell is that thing? I’ve never seen one of those before! Must be a new series or something—WHOA!”, he screamed after the Hornet’s Nest began to fire scores of deadly semi-guided rockets in all directions.

“Less talking, more dodging!”, Cirvante scolded.

Multiple whooshing sounds were heard as Arturo did a barrel roll to avoid the incoming barrage of missiles that converged on his position. Unfortunately for the SHION, deploying the Nest was a bad call. Some of the missiles had collided with each other, yes, but many strays crashed in the surrounding areas, causing all sorts of collateral damage and substantial casualties to their already battered forces. Their field officer stood in shock after realizing his massive gaffe cost him more than half of his troops… and Arturo was now making short work of the rest.

“What?! Im.. Impossible! How did he dodge all of those so—GAH! *BOOM*”

And that was the last thing he said before a direct hit from one of the last stray missiles claimed his life.

The situation got worse when the enemy found out the failed missile strike had destroyed or disabled all of their armored units. Without them, they just lost any real chance of winning the battle and retrieving the Longinus. The soldiers quickly began to panic as they realized there was nothing they could do against their opponent’s supernatural abilities. It was becoming painfully apparent that they went in clearly under-equipped and over-confident, and now they were about to pay the price.

-“Gah! We can’t keep this up much longer! We’re running out of troops, and the Captain is nowhere in sight!” one of them shouted amongst the rattling sound of heavy fire.

“We’ve gone in way over our heads! We’ve got to retreat!” another one complained.

-“Grr... We have no choice! Call General Grübach and have him send reinforcements at once!--“

-“Und just what the hell do you think you are doing, herr Korpsman? Did I not order you to stand your ground until I arrived? Are you truly that weak that you can’t hold out against a single enemy?!”

A booming, angry voice from behind them interrupted the corporal’s order. It belonged to none other than Captain Aldric Sachs, who had just arrived at the scene in his custom-made Parzival mech. The Captain was writhing in rage, determined to put an end to the boy’s interference and recapturing the Longinus.

The corporal attempted to stammer out an apology. -“But s-sir, the enemy has been slaughtering us! How are we supposed to kill him, if we can’t even get close to him? I’m sorry sir, but right now retreating is the only option we’ve got-“

-“Enough of your excuses, you incompetent Dumkopf!” Sachs yelled at him, knocking him away with a swing of his left arm, leaving the humiliated officer bloodied on the grass with more than a few broken bones to his name.

Captain Sachs’ face was contorted by rage. Not even his best troops, the Kriegsmärche, were able to halt Arturo and Cirvante’s advance in the slightest. He knew of course they weren’t a match for the newborn Aleph, but he at least expected his troops to hold out a little better in the face of such a strong enemy. But instead they were being cut down like blades of grass, unable to repel the Aleph’s unending assault. The Captain had to do something to prevent the SHION forces from losing their hold in the area, not to mention to save his own face. He would have no choice but to end the battle himself.

-“All of you, fall back to the city! Eliminate any remaining resistance and await further orders. The Aleph’s mine!”

Of course, Sachs was already prepared. After all, this scenario was more or less inevitable; it was a matter of how long would his soldiers be able to last before he could arrive at the battlefield and come up with an effective strategy. But right now, things didn’t look so good for his plans. He’d have to come up with a new tactic, and fast.

It was then that Sachs noticed Arturo was still unaware of his presence; the fledgling Aleph was too busy fending off the two dozen or so troops that were surrounding his position, and this time it actually looked like they were giving him trouble for a change. The boy was tired, he could tell.

-“So he’s running out of steam, eh? Heh heh heh! Yes… Now I’ve got you, little boy… hier kommt Sachs!! Ahahahahaha!”

This was it. The only chance he’d get at a surprise attack. Sachs drew his blade and set his boosters on full power, rushing straight towards the unsuspecting Aleph in the distance…

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14 June 2312
Command Room, MRS Avalon
Position: 66°32’ W 17°33’ N alt 15760m
20:31 GMT -4
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The Avalon’s Command Room served as both the bridge of the vessel and a military command post for the Meridian forces. The room was outfitted with all of the latest surveillance technology; several dozen computer screens detailed enemy and ally positions in different theatres of operation around the world. Security footage from ground and air bases was being streamed through a live satellite feed. A large screen near the front of the helm showed a map of the Avalon’s current position. The low humming and beeping of the countless monitoring sensors could be heard all over the bridged, until suddenly—

*BEEBEEBEEBEEP* <Warning: Massive energy flux detected at point P2R-1. Urgent attention required…>

Uh-oh, that wasn’t good. Several WARNING signs popped up in place of some of the regular windows. The crewmen were startled, thinking it was an enemy attack, despite the fact that the closest major establishment of SHION forces was in the Bahamas, nearly a thousand miles away, and no superweapons had been constructed there as of yet.

Their fears were dissipated when one of the tacticians pinpointed the source of the flux to a small island country recently invaded by the SHION, and revealed it to be none other than the highly-sought Lance of Longinus.

-“Commander Starley!”

-“Report.”

-“We’ve detected a huge energy spike about 130 miles northwest of our current position! Readings match the Longinus’ energy signature, ma’am!”, the tactician replied.

-“What? Where is this? Put it on screen, now!”, Rosslyn commanded.

-“Right away, ma’am.”

Another screen popped up in front of them; it was a map of a mountainous region not too far away, accurate to 5 meters. The energy spike was represented by a large white dot rapidly moving west. Yes, that’s right. Moving.

-“Wait, it’s moving?! Oh, no… Somebody must have found it already... This is serious. I need immediate satellite footage of the area! Just what is going on down there…?”

-“We’ve tracked the location to the foothills near the city of Rosario, Puerto Rico. Target is engaged in combat with enemy forces while approaching the city. It appears Rosario has already fallen into SHION hands, and the holder is attempting to repel their advance by himself.”, he answered.

-“How is he doing right now?”, Rosslyn asked out of concern.

-“See for yourself.”

The map, now centered on the white dot, showed several rows of smaller red blips moving towards it. One by one, the red dots disappeared, but ten more took their place. The white dot was quickly becoming surrounded, and it was only a matter of time before the SHION troops overrun him.

Commander Rosslyn was seriously starting to worry. If the SHION finally managed to get their hands on the Longinus, there’s no telling what they could do with that kind of power…

-“This isn’t good… Who knows how much longer he can last against them? He’s barely had any battle experience! Even though the Longinus may grant him immeasurable strength, but the sheer effort needed to control his powers in this state must be taking an enormous toll on his body…”

Commander Starley let out an exasperated sigh. It looked like the battle was inevitable after all.

But she had little choice. If Meridian didn’t do anything about it, before long the SHION would have killed Arturo and captured Longinus. Rosslyn turned on her microphone and announced her decision to all the troops.

-“Attention, all personnel! The Longinus has been found! I repeat; the Longinus has been found! We absolutely cannot allow the Society for the Human Improvement of Nations to seize any more Aleph for their twisted experiments, much less one as powerful as the Lance of Longinus. The 19th, 26th and 33rd rapid-response strike teams and the 47th Special Tactical Operations Battalion, report to the auditorium for emergency briefing. We’re moving out.”

General Darielle Hawthorne, the short blond-haired officer standing at Commander Starley’s side, looked at her superior with surprised eyes. She had never seen her leader so determined before in the eight years they’ve served together. She could tell that whatever was happening, something major must be going down for Rosslyn to drop the bomb like this all of a sudden.

-“The 47th? You’re sending Pendragon into the fray? But why? The enemy forces are small enough; the advance teams should be able to handle it fine. Unless…!” Darielle gasped, realization having hit her face. –“Unless… You aren't seriously thinking of going down there yourself, are you?!”

Rosslyn nodded her head.

-“It’s true that, out of overconfidence, the SHION only decided to send a small attack force to retrieve the Longinus. But we must not rule out the possible presence of special forces units, heavy weaponry, or in the absolute worst case, other Aleph. I’m sending Pendragon as a precautionary measure to ensure this mission’s success in case anything were to happen to the frontline units. Besides, I’m quite curious to see what this Aleph can do. He definitely has potential, yes…”

-“But…!”

-“Relax, Darielle. It’s not like anything is going to happen to me. You know me better than that. There’s no need for you to be so over-protective all the time.” Rosslyn answered playfully. –“Anyway, I’m heading down to the auditorium. I leave you in charge, General Hawthorne.” She finished, smiling.

Darielle sighed. –“Aye, ma’am.” She answered, giving a stiff-armed salute.

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14 June 2312
Pendragon Common Quarters, MRS Avalon
Position: 66°32’ W 17°33’ N alt 15760m
20:33 GMT -4
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The common quarters were more or less a lounge area where the soldiers of Pendragon unwind after their missions or while off-duty. It was equipped with all sorts of amenities, such as holo-screen TVs, an assortment of video games, and of course, a fully stocked minibar. The door at the back of the room connects to the hallway where the living quarters are located, while the one to the front leads to the central hallway where all the important sections are.

The room was abuzz with random banter, and the chugging of alcoholic beverages was in full swing. After all, why wouldn’t it be? They had the recent victories in Cuba and Florida to celebrate. And parties like this were the one thing that brought them together and kept them from losing their minds due to the constant battles.

-“They just up and came into our room and nearly trashed the place! Can you believe that?”

-“What? Oh, you’ve gotta be kidding me, Will!”

Sean and William were relaxing on the two sofas in the middle of the room, enjoying a couple of beers and talking about their lives like the good friends they are. The two were the only Knights of the Round that were still off-duty; the rest were busy on other missions in North and Central America as backup for their struggling forces. Sure, they were worried about them, but hey, as long as they were off-duty, why not make the most of it?

-“Heh. So then Collie came over and asks if—“

The sound of blaring sirens cut their conversation short. All of the holoscreens used for entertainment immediately switched to a red screen with the word “ALERT” in big capital letters. The emergency lights turned on, drenching the once-cheery white lounge room in an ominous shade of red.

-“Huh? What’s happening?” the soldier in the corner asked.

-“The hell’s going on now?” another black, muscly soldier went.

-“Hey, isn’t that the Chief?” a third one said, pointing at the four screens on the ceiling.

Everyone gathered around the news screens, all of them displaying Rosslyn’s emergency announcement to her troops. There was much speculation amongst the soldiers as to what exactly was happening that deserved such an urgent broadcast.

-“Whatever’s going on has to be really important for her to—“

-“Shh!”

The room fell silent as Rosslyn gave her message.

<…The Longinus has been found! I repeat, the Longinus has been found!...>

A few surprised gasps and incredulous expressions were heard. –“What?! The Longinus? Where? No way! That’s impossible!”

<The 19th, 26th and 33rd rapid-response strike teams and the 47th Special Tactical Operations Battalion, report to the auditorium for emergency briefing. We’re moving out. That is all.>

-“All right, you heard the lady! Everyone, gear up and head to the auditorium immediately!” Sean ordered.

-“So… Another battle, huh?” William asked rhetorically.

-“Guess so. Oh well, no rest for the weary, or so they say. C’mon. Let’s roll.” replied Sean, packing up his stuff.

All the soldiers suited up for battle and ran to the auditorium as fast as they could. Sean and William were the last to follow, making sure all heads were accounted for. Neither of them said a word on their way to the briefing. The two Knights arrived at the Pendragon Auditorium around five minutes later, picking the two empty front-row seats closest to the center. Sean and William took a moment to observe the atmosphere that permeated the hall. The tension was so thick, not even a chainsaw would be able to cut through it. Silent excitement filled the air, an exhilarating eagerness for the battle that was about to begin. A battle that would inevitably shift the balance of power, and forever change the course of history…