Over the Line
Six hours ago this depot, an old Accord supply warehouse which was used to coordinate supply routes between the different colonies in New Eden, was a quiet and unremarkable place. Six hours ago, the Chosen hadn’t made an aggressive push into New Eden by destroying a hydropower reserve, essentially cutting power to the supply depot. Six hours ago, Chosen and Accord weren’t in the middle of a ground war over a chunk of land only a short distance from the Accord Central Command at Trans-Hub.
Six hours ago my life was so much easier…
Weapon fire illuminates the night, with streaks of orange and purple giving light to the otherwise dark and ominous sky. As the Accord and Chosen trade volleys of fire above my head, I run and dive behind a large log before crawling on my stomach to a massive boulder that rests along the side of the road. The deafening booms of artillery explosions along with the sharp cracks of small arms fire make it impossible to hear myself think. But to hell with thinking, I’m running on pure adrenaline – and when I sense a lull in the firefight I make my move.
Clawing to my feet I turn and bolt up the road. For a brief, brilliant moment the only noise in my world are the sounds of dirt and gravel crunching under my feet. It’s almost comforting, until the ear-splitting sound of artillery exploding only feet from me rattles my world and sends me, confused and unbalanced, to the ground in a heap of embarrassment. I draw my arms to my head as I curl up, my whole body clenching tight as I hear the exchange of weapons fire continue for another solid minute. Eventually, the volleys quiet once more and I’m left lying in the middle of an empty road with my arms cradling my head.
In the moments following the cannon fire, the silence is almost eerie. A slight breeze rustles the leaves in the trees, and crickets chirp all around me. In the distance I hear voices, though I can’t tell if they’re human or Chosen. I also hear the distinct sound of heavy footsteps – a clear giveaway that whatever is approaching is some kind of battleframe.
“What in the…” I hear a voice mutter roughly twenty paces away from where I’m lying. I hear two more heavy footsteps, and then silence. For several seconds, I only hear the crickets and the wind. A few more seconds passed before the silence was shattered.
“Would you kindly move your ass?!”
I hesitate, unsure of what’s actually happening. The voice calls out again.
Well, that’s not a Chosen voice, I think to myself before scrambling to my feet and running up the hill. I run about ten meters past two men in massive battleframes. No sooner do I pass the two men do I hear the gunfire return in full force. Bullets ricochet off the ground to my left and right – several feet away, but still too close for comfort. As I turn around I see the two men in the battleframes carrying on an idle conversation as they walk towards me in a manner far too casual for someone who was being shot at. As I approach them and ready myself to speak they each grab me by an arm and begin to drag me away from the crossfire. I set my feet beneath me and begin to walk in the direction they’re pulling, giving them absolutely zero resistance in moving me away from the firefight.
We walk another thirty or forty meters away from the fight, releasing me in the middle of an Accord FOB (Forward Operating Base – ED). Although I hear the weapons fire only a handful of meters away, this makeshift outpost couldn’t feel further away from the front line. Two men sitting against a large concrete barrier clean their rifles and engage in idle chitchat. Another soldier, a woman whose eyes show experience well beyond her years, sits near the edge of the cliff we’re near and peers with great intent at the Chosen encampment.
I immediately decide not to cross her.
At the far end of the camp I see a man with greying hair standing over a small table, looking down at what I can only assume is a map. As I start to walk towards the man with the scar, my ears pop at the sound of a massive blast that rocks the earth beneath my feet. Turning back, I see billowing smoke rising from the side of the cliff. While I try to steady myself and calm my racing heartbeat, one of the soldiers flippantly looks up from his rifle and peers over the side of the cliff.
“Hrm. They’re getting closer – but still a ways off.”
“That was a ways off?!” By the time I realize that I’ve just shouted that aloud, at least a half-dozen of the Accord’s finest are staring at me with a mixture of amusement and annoyance. One of them even lets out a small laugh. Keeping my eyes fixated on the billowing smoke, I make my way over to the man at the table.
“Excuse me,” I say, skipping introductions. “But what the hell?”
“That’s one way to introduce yourself,” the man says to me, never taking his eyes away from the map on the table.
“Forgive me for being a bit on edge, but it’s not every day that I’m being shot at by my own side.”
“If we were firing at you I assure you – you’d be dead right now.” The man at the table rises and turns to me – something of an effort considering the bulkiness of his battleframe. Once he faces me, he extends a hand. “Sergeant Matthias Aldridge, Accord Central Command.”
I arch a brow as I look at his extended hand. This guy is way too relaxed, I think to myself as I slowly reach out and accept his handshake. After a brief handshake, Sergeant Aldridge returns his attention to the map on the table.
“What’s going on here,” I ask – quite naively.
“At the risk of going into too much detail,” he tells me. “One of our watchtowers detected a Chosen incursion at around 1400-hours. As we were mobilizing forces to intercept, we heard the blast. Once we confirmed that Chosen were at that position, we came in weapons hot.”
“I take it, then, that you had no idea that I was there?”
“Hah! Typically when a civilian sees the Chosen, they either make like a bat out of hell or they wind up dead – often times both.”
“Well at least you guys missed,” I opine. He gives me a quick, unimpressed glance. No sooner do I finish my quip do we hear another loud blast, and feel the ground beneath us vibrate once more. We turn around to see that the soldiers that had been resting along the concrete barriers had jumped to their feet and were a good four or five meters away from the cliff edge.
“What the hell happened,” Sergeant Aldridge shouts to the group of soldiers.
“Another blast, Sergeant,” one of the men speaks up. “This one was much closer.”
“They have a beat on us, Sergeant,” chimes in the woman from before, her eyes sharp as a hawk as she continues to observe the Chosen encampment. “If we’re going to go after them, we need to head out now.”
“Agreed,” Aldridge concurs. “Ready yourselves, grunts. We’re going to push these sons of bitches back inside the cloud!”
A momentary roar of thunderous cheers from the soldiers quickly fades as they start to ready themselves for the charge on the Chosen outpost. As they ready themselves, I approach Sergeant Aldridge.
“Sergeant,” I address him. “I’m sure you’ve noticed that I don’t exactly have the tools to help you in this fight.”
“Hah,” he scoffs. “You’re not going to be helping us out on this one.”
“God, no! Corporal Anderson is going to escort you to Trans-Hub. It’s the safest place in New Eden for someone like you, and it’s only a short distance from here.” Aldridge turns away from me, towards the other soldiers. “Anderson!”
A young, spry soldier in a Recon battleframe rushes up to the Sergeant and stands with his hands behind his back in the standard Parade Rest stance. “Yes, Sergeant.”
“Relax, Corporal. You’re not going to be part of the strike.”
“What?!” Corporal Anderson seems angered over not being shot at. I guess this mindset plays into why I never enlisted.
“Instead, Corporal, you’re going to be relaying our status back to Accord Central Command and requesting reinforcements. We may not need ‘em, but I’d rather they waste an afternoon driving out here for mop-up duties than us not have them.”
“Understood, Sergeant.” Anderson says with a sigh.
“Good,” Aldridge continues. “Additionally, you’re going to be escorting our friend with you.”
“Hey! I’m right here!” I chime in.
“Yes,” Aldridge says. “It’s important that he reaches Trans-Hub in one piece. Am I clear?”
“Good. You take the civilian and leave once we make our push on the Chosen camp.”
Sergeant Aldridge looks over at me a moment, then turns and walks towards the other soldiers. Before I can follow, Corporal Anderson grabs me by the shoulder and starts to lead me towards one of the troop transports parked in the nearby tree line.
“Come with me, sir,” Anderson says. “We’ll have you back to Trans-Hub in no time.”
“Don’t talk down to me like you’re happy to be doing this, kid.”
“In that case shut up and get in the damn truck.”
We reach the transports without saying another word to each other. As I climb in on the passenger side, I notice that Anderson has taken a moment to look out at the other soldiers as they begin their approach to the Chosen fortification. Another moment passes before they slip out of view, and Anderson climbs into the truck.
“Buckle up. We shouldn’t be long.”
With the press of a button and the flip of a small switch, the engine turns over and the vehicle roars to life. As we pull away from the makeshift Accord camp, I catch the sun just starting to make its way behind the Melding wall. It will be dark soon, but I feel confident that we’ll be in Trans-Hub in no time…