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Amped To Kill

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    "Truth be told, Rook; I find Earth prawn delicious. They're great eating
even if I have them grilled or cooked. Stupid Afrikaner slokaa. Why'd they
call those filthy beasts 'prawn'?"

    Miles, already a bundle of nerves before the drop, only listened with half
an ear to the woman while he walked down the hall and fiddled with the various
protuberances on his battle-dress. While Miles was a soldier, he would not be
taking on the "poleepkwa" in battle fatigues. As the Van De Merwe Incident
demonstrated years ago, that would be suicide, especially the aliens were now
hostile and actively organized to kill anything that looked remotely human.

    Speaking of aliens, the woman with Miles wasn't from Earth per se, but she
was at least humanoid. The Newcomer female was slender, and at least as tall
as Miles; he himself was a prime specimen of humanity at six feet and change,
but that meant little. If Miles and his bald alien ally physically wrestled
like two school children, she'd easily beat him down like a rag doll.

    The Newcomer appeared far more at ease than "the Rook"; she occasionally
stroked her smooth spotted head and kept chatting about her slim pickings of
cooked Earth food as they headed for the drop bay. Soldiers tended towards
nervousness regardless of how much they trained, and Miles suspected she was
using idle chatter to keep her mind off the fact that they were both
underwater in a submarine carrier.

    Any hull breach meant the incoming seawater would dissolve the pretty alien
woman in seconds unless she reached the escape vehicles, sealed herself inside
a battle blister, or scrambled into a survival suit made for her kind.

    Miles reflected on the many aliens now living on planet Earth. The prawn
ship came to a stop over Johannesburg in 1982 and no one stopped to wonder if
that species was the only one in the neighborhood. The insect-like aliens were
called "prawn" by the South Africans, but everyone else called them something
else; "crickets" by the British and Australians, but other countries had other
monikers, all which focused on the JoBurg aliens' speech, which sounded like
clicks and clacks.

    Ultimately, the mystery of why the "prawn ship" stopped on Earth was
answered when the Newcomers' slave ship crashed in California's Mojave Desert
six years later in 1988. Between a space wreck and an inoperable craft, the
best minds humanity had to offer surmised that a mid-space accident had
somehow occurred, and that both craft touched down on the planet much like a
two vehicles after a traffic collision.

    Once dirtside though, the fortunes of the two alien races diverged rapidly.
The Newcomers, having landed in the United States, were first held in
quarantine as a precautionary measure, but ultimately assimilated into the
human population. Not so with the "prawn" in South Africa. Their radically
inhuman appearance, coupled with the vast political and social changes in
South Africa at the time, proved to be the prawns' undoing.

    Then in 2010, Wikus Van De Merwe happened. Miles' mind still reeled at the
ineptitude of Multi-National United, and how poorly they handled the
situation. While the United States was never officially invited to participate
in anything MNU-related (having their own extra-terrestrial situation at
home), America did send unofficial observers - even Newcomer scientists - who
watched the events unfold in District 9.

    Without any idea what would happen if the prawn came back, the United
States erred on the side of caution and prepared. Armed with the scant
technological scraps from their new alien allies and information on the aliens
in South African, DARPA managed to developed the "amplified mobility platform"
(AMP) to combat the hostile alien threat.

    After initial teething troubles, America had started a new technological
revolution in warfare with a militarized version of the AMP, the Gibbon combat
rig. With help from Newcomer scientists, DARPA managed to get their various
armaments programs working, and just in time too. Less than a decade after the
stricken prawn ship departed for its home system, their invasion fleet arrived
on Earth. Strangely, the prawn didn't come to "rescue" their brethren in South
Africa, but to harvest the raw materials instead.

    Miles and his alien comrade-at-arms entered a large loading bay where a
dozen or so other rig drivers were lined up. They were all in similar
body-hugging battledress. Their codpieces sported protuberances and inputs
much like as his. The group's commander - a 'Tactical Sergeant' by his
insignia - was a short, wiry Chinese man with a dour face, and a more dour

    "We're wrapping up," the sergeant's bald head glistened under the interior
lighting as he glared at the new arrivals. "Small change of plan. Rook, you're
ridin' alone. Tits will be driving Ginny. Move out."

    At that, the others started moving towards ladders marked with names on
large signs. A blonde woman with a mediocre but perky bust stepped up and
waved to the Newcomer, saying, "C'mon Mary. See you in the Bactrian."

    "All right." The Newcomer - Mary - turned and gave Miles a friendly punch
in the arm as she strode off, "See ya, Rook."

    "Uh, sir?" Miles seemed hesitant as the sergeant started off to his own

    "Don' you ever 'sir' me. I work for a livin'."

    "Yes Sergeant Cheng," Miles quickly corrected himself. "So, how's this
going to work? I thought my blister was set for the Bactrian instead of a
Gibbon? I thought I was to escort Miss Webster?"

    "I swapped the control cards," came his response. "Just because you're not
driving the Virgin Mary around -" a play on Webster's name and call sign "-
doesn't mean you're not on baby-sitter duty."

    Miles started up his ladder as Cheng continued in his American drawl.

    "You're still new to movin' in a blister and cradle. Gibbons ain't training
machines. Bein' on your own means you can make mistakes that won't get my
people killed - 'specially my bot controller," the sergeant said simply. "You
stay near the Bactrian, but do exactly as Tanya says. Understand?"

    "Yes sergeant. Understood."

    Probably more so than you want, Miles thought darkly as he settled into his
battle blister. Tanya "Tits" Doyle, the unofficial bodyguard of their squad's
bot controller, was rumored to have been a stripper, a porn star, or a hooker
before the prawns invaded Earth. Miles heard a few sordid stories aboard the
submarine carrier that ran rampant in small circles of how Doyle got into the
combat rig program.

    Some said she and Cheng were having some fun before the invasion, but that
didn't hold up, as the sergeant himself was rumored to be a refugee himself.
In any case, once the shooting started, Doyle, like Sergeant Cheng, quickly
earned new infamy as rig drivers who excelled at their craft - and killing the

    Whether "Tits" and Sergeant Cheng were once an item, or still an item
seemed moot - the sergeant and the slender Newcomer female, Mary Webster, were
often found eating together in the mess, much to the disgust of the crew. The
raw meat diet of Newcomers wasn't exactly a welcoming sight except to their
own kind.

    Miles tuned out the innuendo and he concentrated on getting himself ready.
He  connected the waste line to a metal orifice on his codpiece, followed by
the wash/rinse line. That done, Miles slipped his arms and legs into the metal
and polymer cradles inside the blister.

    With his limbs so encompassed, he would be able to control any rig his
blister was installed into just as he would his own body - at least hands,
arms, legs, and feet wise. The cradles' many joints were wired or motorized to
provide resistance to his movements, if just to give the operator a sensation
of feedback; physically and practically, he was a walking five meter tall
metal giant, with proportional strength.

    The blond rookie was primarily standing, although there was a small rest
protruding from the rear wall of the blister to allow Miles to rest on his
buttocks. He seldom did so, as sitting like that was painful if he did it too
long. To actually "sit" comfortably in a blister, Miles had to remove his legs
from the lower limb cradles (in essence letting the auto-walk take over - not
a good idea in combat). So, like any soldier, Miles toughed it out and took
short sits when his legs were feeling tired.

    There was a slight bump, and Miles felt his battle blister shudder. He was
being loaded into his Gibbon. The war machine stood between nearly five meters
tall; its upper body was voluminous enough to encapsulate the cylindrical
cockpit containing its operator. So enclosed, the only means for the person to
see while inside one of these assault suits was through the cam-plate - the
prefabricated armored faceplate with bundles of fiber thin cables serving as
cameras to the outside world.

    The cam-plate wrapped around the Gibbon's bulbous upper-body and came down
in a bib-like fashion over the forward and side facings of the torso. Special
optic mountings in the outer frame's crotch and underarms allowed the to "see"
the ground beneath him.

    Inside his armored cocoon, Miles felt connections being made between his
blister and the rig. A brief moment later, the entire inside of his battle
blister blinked to life. Liquid crystal displays pressed into sheets received
input from the cam-plate and became a virtual window to the world outside. A
clear, electronic voice chimed inside the battle blister.

    :: sensors online. actuators connected ::

    Miles cycled through the various vision modes: low-light and night vision,
infrared, ultraviolet, gamma, motion-sensing, vibratory, infrasound, and
checked them against the various filters that let him distinguish between the
biology of different species: human, prawn, and Newcomer.

    :: weapons online. power optimal ::

    Miles checked his Gibbon's armament. Doyle had either opted for the
standard load-out, or the selection was restored when Sergeant Cheng made the
last minute switch. No matter. Nearly all Gibbons sortied on a standard
load-out; the few exceptions were just that - exceptions; many rig drivers
switched back to the standardized load-out after their attempt at being

    There was no need to mess with perfection: a Particle Impeller Gun (PIG)
firing pellets of antimatter held in stasis, an eighty Terajoule laser on the
operator's off-hand mitt, and two backpack units, one firing soda can sized
antimatter "grenades" and the portable indirect munition platform (PIMP) which
launched small, self-guided cruise missiles.

    Antimatter didn't only figure prominently in the weaponry, but a variation
of the matter/antimatter reaction powered the Gibbon and other war machines.

    Miles' Gibbon slowly clunked onto the landing vehicle; with prawn ships
controlling much of the skies, human and Newcomer alike needed to adapt to
survive, and the sea was one of the few refuges free of prawn control.

    While both races could dig into the mountain terrain or ruined cities that
survived initial bombardment, the underwater military complexes (which doubled
as fall-back positions) saw few, if any, Newcomers. For the bald headed aliens
to live underwater meant a potentially vile death. Many Newcomers opted to
support their human allies by fighting alongside them in various mountain
strongholds; their alien physique made them suited as mountaineering or
SpecWar infantry.

    Where the human-Newcomer forces on land were mostly stalemated by prawn
forces, assaults made by sea were making good progress. Utilizing the cover of
water to confuse prawn detection gear, the naval forces denied the aliens
valuable food and grazing grounds for their eggs in the short term.

    'A single adult humpback whale can yield enough nutrition for 5,000 to
7,500 prawn workers,' Miles remembered from his training.

    While a single prawn could be killed by something as simple as a hunting
rifle, a shotgun, or a fire axe, the creature was still capable of tearing
apart a Newcomer - let alone a human. Miles saw the combat footage of Colonel
Koobus Venter. One moment he was firing on a pack of angry prawn, the next, he
was rendered limb from limb. And when the insect aliens were armed with their
exotic weaponry, human and Newcomer forces were at a disadvantage unless they
attacked with overwhelming firepower from their war machines, or with

    Miles had his Gibbon hold onto a support brace of the landing vehicle. Next
to his Gibbon, Doyle's Bactrian - so named for its dorsal "hump" that formed
the second crewman's position (where Webster was) - was already in position.

    The Bactrian stood a meter taller than the Gibbon, but instead of equipping
dorsal weapon pods, it had an instrument laden, semi-independent crew blister
that linked the Bactrian with the engagement robots - affectionately called
EaRLs (Engagement Robot, Legged). EaRLS were unmanned, semi-autonomous killing
machines, friendly to human and Newcomer alike, but responded to prawn by
opening fire and alerting the military authorities.

    "You doin' all right there, Rook?" Doyle's distinctive Manchester accent
clipped through the private frequency to Miles.

    "Yeah," Miles responded.

    The murky underwater environ had nothing interesting, so he opted to put
his escortee's real-time portrait in a pop-up window on his blister's display.
The dirty haired blonde had a flat face, wide lips, and a cowling stare - all
completely at odds with her cheerful and gregarious demeanor which Miles found

    "You were a tad slow boarding," Doyle glanced down and fiddled with
something - probably her own codpiece, "You're not upset with the duty change
are you?"

    "No," Miles replied. "It just caught me a little off guard."

    "Well don't you worry your pretty little head," she managed a garishly
toothy smile. "All you do is stay near me an' Ginny."

    "Hello Miles," Webster chimed in. Miles moved her pop-up on his blister's
screen underneath Doyle and felt the landing craft detach itself from the
submarine carrier.

    "Don't forget the Bactrian can't move worth a darn when it comes to movin'
as fast as the Sarge wants," Doyle said. "Not moving quick and not havin'
nothing 'cept a modified PIG and a laser glitterstick - well, if we get in
trouble, we'd be in serious shit, even with Mary's metal pets."

    "Not like we'll have any, slokaa," the Newcomer chimed in. "All of them
will be out. None will be home."

    Hence the me and my Gibbon, Miles thought to himself. The bots will be out
busy hunting. Good for them but bad for us if we get caught by a large force.

    The throb of the landing craft increased as Miles felt his ears ache
slightly. Even with a sealed environment, there was no getting away with mild
pressure differences coming from such a depth.

    "Focus people," rasped Sergeant Cheng. "We hit the dance floor in thirty.
Arsenyev, you and your team take the left -" Miles heard quick acknowledgment
"- the scouts, Talua, and I will take the right. Faraz, do the usual. Straight
down the middle. Kill 'em all."

    Miles heard the last team leader exclaim gleefully in Arabic. He was a
former Iraqui Army, or something. It didn't really matter now that the area
around the Dead Sea was a nuclear wasteland for a hundred miles in all
directions. Those damned prawn enjoyed the salt water so much they were
willing to retake the area repeatedly. So, someone high on up decided to lure
in a large number of enemy forces and glass the location with several

    The irony was the wholesale destruction of the Dead Sea brought about a
faster truce between Jew and Arab than any number of peace summits or talks
generations before - not that either side had much military might left to do
much except to fight the alien menace and survive.

    All other things considered, it was a small price to pay for victory. The
blast destroyed one prawn ship and crippled a second one. The second ship
eventually succumbed to an extended bombardment and crashed. There were no
survivors, or at least none that the Search and Destroy teams reported when
they went through the wreckage.

    "Ready. Wait," the sergeant's voice was steady. "Ten seconds. Nine. Eight.
Seven ..."