Emmet Ford felt his bones creak as he stood up. He was scanning the withering plants of his plot when the sound of battle rolled in like a wall of thunder – just far enough away that he knew they were still safe, but close enough that there was no way to tell for how long. His son stood on a mound overlooking the valley of the Military Exclusion Zone and watched the battle.
“Jommy”, he called out. “Get down off a’ there and come help me.” The boy ignored him. The man grunted and let out a long sigh, then ambled across his plot to join his son. The crack of small arms fire floated past them as Marines trundled across the flat ground between their compound and the fertile grounds of the Highlands. A sudden flash erupted at top of the Highlands, its thunder rolling over them moments later. The Marines lurched forward in loose lines as they advanced against the Terran Guard. Vehicles followed behind them, but there weren’t as many as there used to be. The years of wind and sand had scraped most of their markings off so they couldn’t tell which units they belonged to anymore.
Just as the Marines reached the Highlands, the crest at the top of its long slope seemed to come alive as a wave of Terran Guards emerged from behind the other side.
“Oh God,” Emmet said. He clasped Jommy’s hand, hoping the boy wouldn’t understand what he was seeing, knowing that he couldn’t hide it from him, either. The Terran Line looked like a long black snake that stretched all the way across the expanse of the Highlands. Their weapons didn’t produce any smoke or flash, but Emmet knew they had fired a furious fusillade when Marines started falling to the ground while the rest dropped down to hug the ground. Puffs of smoke shot out from where the Marines were lying down as they fired back, but the black snake inched forward, flowing down the slope of the Highlands like the headwaters of an oozing flood.
“Why don’t they use the Cats?” Jommy asked, pointing at Major Walker’s company of twelve robotic war machines standing quietly in the MEF compound. Formally designated as the C-2B Combined Advanced Technology Enhanced Fire and Maneuver Assembly, the Cataphract stood fifty feet above the ground, glistening with black paint and the outline of a lance stenciled underneath its cockpit perched on top. Each one carried two massive plasma cannons and two rotary guns that fired 120 mm steel bolts from a belt feed. Armor plating covered virtually every surface to protect the titanium skeleton and the complex of gyros, hydraulics, compressed air and computer systems that the pilot used to maneuver the behemoth and bring its weapons to bear. For the moment, they didn’t move, as if they were watching the battle – spectators like him and his boy, waiting to see how it came out. Emmet shuddered as more Marines flopped over while the snake advanced steadily towards them.
He jerked back when a bright flash erupted on the near side of the Marine line, followed by a billowing orange ball of fire. Tanks crested the top of the Highlands on either side of the Terran line and fired into the vehicles the Marines had deployed to either side of their line.
Emmet turned away from the battle and surveyed the other plots that populated the dry land of their last reserve – a place they simply called Dirt Hill. The plastic modular huts that looked like freight containers cast shadows over withering plants as the Shoahn’ sun rose over the morning horizon. Another peal of thunder rolled over him from the valley below.
He couldn’t help wondering how long it would be before the tanks were up on Dirt Hill ripping their huts from the ground. He closed his eyes and whispered:
“That they shall not perish.”
©2016 Michael J Lawrence