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Bulletfoot snippet #2!

 

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In case you aren’t sure yet about this book, here’s the 2nd chapter!

Chapter Two

Armstrong7 no longer shouted through the speakers. Jessica13 guessed that he was too engrossed with what was happening above-ground to really pay attention to what was happening below. He still needed the reinforcements who were supposed to be on their way, but he also needed to trust that they knew what to do and would do it without him bellowing at them through the comms.

In fairness, they had been drilled through the procedure innumerable times before. Two dozen chavs were ready for action. Six were already Topside and engaged in the fighting that made the whole bunker shake above them. The rest were getting themselves prepped to join them. They had been drilled through what they needed to do time and time again over the years they had all worked on this level.

But there was drilling and then there was the real thing. You knew when it was a drill. You were calm and collected and gave yourself the benefit of being able to make a couple of mistakes here or there. With that kind of give, you actually didn’t make any. That was what calm got you.

But there was nothing calm about this. With her ears still covered by Mini’s headgear, Jessica13 could hear her heart beating in her chest. The thud-thud of it increased speed as she and the other engineers—playfully labeled bulletfoots—began to head into the bay where their mechs were stored and waiting for them.

It wasn’t a long walk but when the tight hallways around them shuddered every five steps or so, it was difficult to stay focused on the task at hand. No one wanted to wait around for the kind of hell that would rain on them if the shockwaves grew worse.

The hangar bay was a tightened section of the bunker that had a hallway leading out toward an elevator that took the mechs to the top. It was otherwise crammed to the hilt with parts, tools, cranes, and most importantly, the mechs they would use. Despite that, it was one of the areas with the highest ceilings since it had to accommodate anything from the eight-foot-tall Minato Jessica13 liked to use to the fourteen-foot-tall Mark VII Guardians that were used either for bunker defense or construction outside when repairs were needed.

Armstrong7 rolled across the hallway to snap orders and maintain contact with the men on the top and still wore his suit with the intention to head up there once everything was in place. He was the kind of CO who liked to be in the thick of things himself and struggled to remain in check once he remembered people actually looked to him for orders.

“Charlie4, get those guns connected,” he shouted to one of the other engineers, who peeled away from the group she was in to rush over to the Guardians that were still fitted out for repairs. “Mark3, we need those ammo crates stacked and ready to go—get on it!”

Jessica13 could taste the dryness in her mouth and felt the ticking of the blood vessels around her ears as sweat started to trickle down her spine inside her suit. It triggered a distracting itch she wouldn’t be able to reach during the next hour or so.

Red lights continued to flash across the room and made it difficult to focus on what she was supposed to do.

“Bulletfoots, we’re sending supplies upstairs,” Armstrong7 roared and caught their attention as effectively as if he’d used a grappling hook. “Guardians and Cinders will head up and need all the ammo they can get their hands on. You strap as much as your mech can carry, head up, deliver, and head on back to get more, understood? No leaving crates on the ground. You only come back when you’ve delivered it to a mech in need!”

He talked fast and had already focused on something else. A couple of the Guardian mechs were already disengaging from their coupler links and shuddered as the hydraulics kicked in to give the pilots control of the fifteen-ton suits of hardened steel and titanium alloy. Every step they took made the whole floor shake as they moved to the elevator. The bulletfoots wouldn’t join them, of course. The elevator could only take the size and weight of the two guardians that headed up to reinforce those who were already Topside.

Jessica13 connected the headset to the team’s comms as she and the other bulletfoots hurried toward the section that stored the support mechs. Armstrong7 stuck close to them and marched like he was running a drill, but the look on his face was something she didn’t remember seeing before.

Not fear, she decided. No, he was angry—pissed that someone had attacked his home. He would make the bastards pay for this.

She had seen the man annoyed before and had even seen him yell at a couple of new additions to the defense of the bunker a few times too. Seeing him like that made the sick feeling in her stomach disappear as suddenly as it had appeared. There was still a twist of anticipation in her gut, but it was almost like the rage radiating from her CO was contagious and seeped into the rest of them.

Gone were the nerves and the instinctive need to panic, run, and hide in a hole until all the bad things went away. This was their home, damn it, and they would destroy the bastards who thought they could come from the Outside and attack it.

Besides, this was unlikely to be a raiding party. Those didn’t tend to come packing high explosives. This was an occupation force, it seemed, which was why Armstrong7 was ticked.

“Jessica13!” he snapped and dragged her to a halt as she headed toward her Minato. He didn’t say anything and merely pointed her to the nearest mech before he did the same with the other bulletfoots along the line. They were being herded into the mechs closest to them to get in them and out of the bay as quickly as possible.

Then again, it was Armstrong7 who had told her not to enter combat situations in a mech she didn’t fully trust since that was a good way to get yourself screwed right out of an advantage—and get shredded where you didn’t want anything to go wrong.

It was something he taught regularly to almost every pilot he came across, mostly because he himself was partial to the Mark V Argonaut mech. It was the same General Robotics make as the Guardian but an older model, one that had been developed long before AIs had been used for the design and use of combat mechs.

There was a reason why he liked the older model and its lack of an AI, of course, and it mostly revolved around his dislike of AIs interfering with the function of a combat mech. It wasn’t that he didn’t approve, per se, but he did feel that the AI got in the way of quicker reaction times while in the suit and the more powerful functions being harnessed by him and him alone.

He and the others like him talked about AIs being akin to training wheels when you used a suit. They were useful for beginners but got in the way of the more advanced pilots.

Jessica13 wasn’t sure which side of the spectrum she was on. Her Athena genes made her better at working the mechanical part of the suits, which allowed her a better knowledge of the inner workings of the mechs she and others used. Of course, there was a difference between fixing and using, and while the Mini’s AI was mostly useless, it still greased out some of the more difficult functions like aiming the grappling hook and keeping the stabilizers in place while she carried heavier weights on the mag-clamps on her back.

It was for precisely that reason that she wouldn’t take the first mech she could fit into. She intended to use the one she was the most comfortable with.

“Not that one!” she shouted, turned quickly, and jogged farther down the line until she found the one she still had the headgear for. She grinned when a pleased series of whistles came from the AI in the headset.

“Damn it, Jessie, not fucking now!” Armstrong7 shouted over the blaring sirens, but she gestured to her head to pretend she couldn’t hear him and pulled the entrance at the front of the chest open.

The inside of most of the mechs smelled of sweat and grease since there usually weren’t enough resources to clean the insides more than the basics needed to function, and Mini was no different. At eight feet tall, Minis were the runts of the mechs they had in Sanctuary. She was a tighter fit but in the end, that suited Jessica13 fine and she slipped inside, paired the headset with the rest of the suit, and watched the HUD come alive.

The screen lit up on the edges and a tiny little flower appeared on the top right side. It never failed to make her smile. It was like Mini was sending her a message. The AI had no verbal functions as far as she could tell from her work on the coding, so the little details of their interaction while she was in the mech were always a bonus.

“Good morning to you as well,” Jessica13 said and for a moment, all the fear that had swamped her since the warning lights had started flashing vanished.

The screen suddenly came alive with a text.

203 updates available, it told her. Would you like to reboot and install them?

“No thank you,” she said. “We need to get moving now.”

She could already see the other support mechs starting to decouple and pull away from their harnesses.

Reboot engaging, the screen told her and the screen powered down as the AI engaged with the rest of the suit once more, leaving the updates for a later date.

She hadn’t been bugged for updates before. It might have had something to do with her work on it. Either way, she didn’t know what the updates would do or why Mini asked for them. They would have to wait until after the battle had ended, but it was still an interesting development.

“Come on, Mini, I gave you a vote of confidence. Don’t bone me here,” Jessica13 pleaded as the mechs began their march down the hallway toward the elevator that had returned. The doors peeled open once the AI within confirmed there were no contaminants that could harm the folks still under the mountain.

“Jessie, we aren’t waiting for you or that piece of shit mech,” Armstrong7 seven called through the comms. “If you ain’t here on the first trip up, that’ll be docked from your canteen, you hear me!”

“Loud and clear, boss!” she acknowledged in response and tried not to show any of the frustration she currently felt. Frustration was better than panic at this point, but she really didn’t need that docked from her canteen. She had already spent most of what she had on the manuals with barely enough to keep the lights on in her little room.

“Best to get a move on,” she said aloud into the mic but disconnected from the comm channel. “That is if someone would bother getting off her lazy electronic ass.”

A series of chirps and whistles issued through the headset. It sounded like Mini was moving as fast as she could but was also a little frustrated.

“Sure, I guess it’s a little my fault too,” Jessica13 said. She usually pretended she could understand what Mini chirped at her. “But you understand that I only took you out of the mech to get you some upgrades, right? So that we could work better together. You were there when I picked the manus up so quit your complaining and come on!”

More chirps and whistles followed as Armstrong7 marched past her with his hulking Argonaut and waved at her with the mech’s exaggerated motions.

“I wasn’t toying with you, Jessie. I mean it!” the man shouted as the other bulletfoots began to board the elevator. Another of the support team began to load the steel crates on the magnetic locks on her back as the HUD finished rebooting.

“About rutting time!” she muttered, engaged with the controls, and felt them connect to her movements and disengage from the harness as she pulled herself free. There was an upside to using the smaller mechs and in this case, it was because it took her less time to acclimate to the controls. Moving three tons of mech was much simpler than moving fifteen, after all.

She picked up the pace into a jog while making sure the hydraulics were stable under the weight of the ammo packed on her back. They wouldn’t hold the elevator for her, and Armstrong7 was about to board himself.

Once he was in, the doors began to slide shut. They were slow, though, like the AI working it knew she was a little on the late side, and she managed to slip through as the locks clamped down.

“Running it a little thin there, Jessie,” the CO said. He looked around, conducted a quick headcount, and stored the names and model numbers on the HUD in his mech. “If you run late again, I won’t suggest you make use of another mech. It’ll be an order. Are we at an understanding?”

“Yes, sir,” Jessica13 replied with a nod and bumped her head on the top of her helmet. There was no vertical head movement on the Mini, which meant her shoulders moved up and down and made it look like she shrugged instead. Armstrong7 knew better than to think she was being insubordinate and stepped out in front of the rest of the crew. He would act as the shield for the support mechs that weren’t fully rigged for combat.

His main gun was raised and primed for the fight they could still feel happening. Every explosion on top made the whole elevator shudder and swung it gently, but the mechanism was strong enough to drag them up to the surface.

“Starting to wish those older models had some projectile shields now, huh, boss?” Jacob14 asked, looking up at the massive mech standing next to him.

Armstrong7 tapped the chest of his mech with the main gun attached to his right arm. “This is all the shielding I’ll need. Now stay back, let me clear a path for you, then head out. The folks up top will already have themselves marked off as needing ammo on your HUDs, so choose one and mark it off. If two of you mark off the same Guardian, I will be pissed. If you guys get taken down, switch your selections off so the others know you won’t be able to get to them. I swear to the Seven, if you die and let someone go out without ammo up there, I will personally revive you so that I can shoot you myself. Do you understand?”

Of course, all this was covered in the drills they ran from time to time but it never hurt to be reminded that those depleted-uranium rounds would riddle their recently revived corpses if they didn’t do the job right. Not that any of them really thought Armstrong7 would actually do it, but as of right now, it didn’t really matter.

The elevator came to a halt with a thud and brought all their minds back to the task at hand. Jessica13’s heart suddenly thudded rapidly in her chest again and she squeezed the controls in Mini’s arm to keep her fingers from trembling. She was careful to leave her forefinger off the trigger, though. She really didn’t need to have the damaged elevator added to her canteen deductions for the month.

The doors shuddered gently, and she couldn’t help but notice the stillness that suddenly descended on the group. The explosions were oddly muted by the reinforced panels but were the only sound in the seconds before the doors would open to allow the noise of the firefight outside to intrude.

The quiet before the storm. She’d never really understood the phrase before now. The anticipation was building, and all she could really think about was that her mouth was dry but she still needed to use the restroom for some reason. She’d asked one of the chavs about it before and they said it was due to the adrenaline pumping through her body. Without even knowing it, her body was getting ready for a fight.

It was like having an AI but for her own body, she remembered thinking at the time.

The doors jerked open. A cloud of dust quickly engulfed them and the clamor of battle was no longer muffled.

Jessica13 wanted to run out and suddenly felt hellishly exposed standing there with the doors wide open. Despite the instinct, she remembered her orders and waited for Armstrong7 to move out first.

She peered past him at the cloud that made everything farther away than ten feet disappear in a rush of brown. Her grimace was instinctive because she knew she would inevitably have to clean that dust out of the joints of these mechs when they were done there.

When, not if.

“Okay, clear!” Armstrong7 roared. “Move, move, move!”

_____________________

So, are you ready to see how Jessica13 and her crew fare? Then get your copy today for only 99c or FREE in Kindle Unlimited!

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