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The Good, The Bad and The Plain Unlucky - By Craig 'esd' Blackney

Dabnor's Hunter crunched through the thick woods, the forest lit by beams of moonlight from the clear sky cutting through the leaves of the canopy. It wouldn't be long until dawn. He stopped when his MAV reached a ditch filled with water that looked more like liquid marble. No telling how deep it was, there was no choice. He'd have to use the jump jets to cross it. The radar was clear, but the noise of a MAV thrusting up, then landing again travels for miles. Listening posts were set up by the Federated States across the East Coast, consisting of nothing more than a seismograph, and a transmitter forwarding the results. Large-scale movement of MAVs could be seen as a rumble on the graph, the lines bouncing in a seemingly chaotic way, but full of little patterns to the trained observer. When a MAV lands after falling even a small distance, the graph spikes suddenly, with no lead-in or lead-out to the peak.

Dabnor knew this, and was reluctant to resort to these measures. The last thing he wanted was to be noticed. He manoeuvred the MAV until it's toes were touching the water, and initiated the jump across the liquid surface, firing the jump jets only to soften his landing. The bang coursed up through the legs, shaking the main chassis and relaying every frequency perfectly through the neural-link. Had he have actually been inside the MAV, the shock would not have rattled his teeth, it would have knocked them out. He kept the MAV still, concentrating on the radar in case his hop had been noticed. Five whole minutes passed before Dabnor continued with his march towards the looming mountain to the south-east.

Patri was old hand. He knew to expect the same as had happened the last 9 stints. Nothing. A detachment as small as his would virtually go unnoticed to the Federated States. 3 Mantis', and an unmanned Hauler carrying relay equipment. Patri finished his sweep of the tree line and rejoined his comrades on the shore. Checking that Bauer was alert, Patri powered down his MAV and unplugged. The dark gloom of the control pod returned to his eyes, as did the throb-throb-throb of the propeller down below. The pod opened, like two semi-spheres joined to make a sphere, then one sliding back around the other. Patri stood and stretched, his back making crunching noises like a toddler eating crisps. Stepping out of the pod, he followed the narrow corridor to his quarters, and lit a cigarette. He was half-way through it when a klaxon sounded, and his name was called out on the tannoy. He rose from his bunk, cigarette still in his mouth and darted out the door.

Dabnor stood on the sea-facing side of the mountain, cloaked by trees, looking at the Eastern Confederation troop on the beach. He counted three of the EC weapons, and his target. Watching them, he realised two of the MAVs were powered down, only one was actually on guard and patrolling around the group in circles. Dabnor didn't know what was in the Cargo-shifter, all he knew was that it had to be destroyed. The patrolling EC reached a point in it's patrol where it's back was turned to him.

'Time to make myself known' he thought as he fired the jets while jumping with his legs, heading for the group of enemy targets. He fired three missiles in quick succession at the patroller as he flew through the air, watching them impact one by one on his unsuspecting victim, lighting up the beach as clearly as daylight. It rocked forwards sharply, landing flat on it's face showering everything with a spray of sand. Smoke rose against the diamond sky from the mortal wounds in the unfortunate patroller's back. Dabnor's Hunter landed right next to it, pumping his plasma cannon into the nearest inactive MAV. Blue fire struck repeatedly against it's armour plating, smashing and melting a hole into the chassis until it's power-core was hit, exploding the MAV in a ball of incandescent flames. Dabnor had to run backwards to avoid being knocked over by the blast. Debris thumped into the ground in a wide area around the stricken EC, pocking the sand and causing splashes in the ocean waves. A piece bounced off the Hunter's sensors, causing the transmission to corrupt momentarily. Dabnor's view pixellated, and snapped back into focus.

"Ouch" he snapped under his breath. Looking at the Cargo-shifter, then the remaining Mantis, he decided neither were an immediate threat. The Mantis was shut-down, and the Cargo-shifter was unarmed. Dabnor hopped his Hunter up on top of the weaponless vehicle, and dropped a couple of mines onto it. He then jump jetted backwards, and let loose two shots of the plasma at the mines. They detonated, leaving nothing but a gentle steaming twisted heap of metal where the primary target had stood. The third Mantis was still intact, and still inactive stood next to the disembodied, still-upright, legs of his fallen brother. Dabnor was curious. He'd never seen this type of MAV up close. Adrenalin flooded his body as he walked his Hunter to the enemy to get a better look.

Patri had nearly finished his cigarette by the time he reached his pod. He paused to take the last few drags of his sinful please before dropping it to the floor and stepping inside the sphere. He took his seat, and the pod closed. He tapped the buttons on the arm of the chair, plugging him back into the computer and read the power-up routine flash past his vision. 'Probably another deer' he thought as he ok'd his way through the diagnosis systems. He saw the dull black glow of a TV showing nothing appear, and the beach faded into view. A strange blue walking machine stood between him and what he could only guess were the remains of the Hauler. He tilted his view up to bring his rockets to bear on the alien MAV. His view shattered and went blood-red for a split second as Dabnor opened fire. Patri screamed as the pain surged through his neurons, he mentally gave the order for his Mantis to return fire, but he didn't know if it would hit anything. He had been blinded by Dabnor's assault. He ran his MAV backwards, feeling the water hit the rear of the chassis. His rockets and gatling fired aimlessly.

Dabnor examined the Mantis with interest until he noticed it twitch. After pounding some plasma into it, he fired his jets straight up, and looked down as the enemy flailed backwards shooting wildly. It ran into the water with a huge splash, most likely in a desperate attempt to hide long enough to power down, enabling the pilot to escape safely. Dabnor launched a volley of missiles as the Mantis was trying to get underwater. They veered off-course, and slammed into the burning wreckage of the night's first fallen instead. He cursed, cutting the upward thrust and accelerating through the sky forwards. Gravity took a hold and pulled the Hunter down in an arc. An arc that ended directly on top of the fleeing Mantis. It buckled underneath him and was submerged in the water. Dabnor's Hunter stood on Patri's Mantis as the waves crashed over it. The plasma weapon tilted down as a couple of mines plopped into the water. Dabnor lifted off, firing into the water that boiled beneath the jets. The boiling water flashed brilliantly as the mines and the Mantis' core went off, the plume just reaching the Hunter's feet three-hundred feet in the air.

The submarine's propeller continued to make the throb-throb-throb noise as medics pulled two corpses from the control booth. A MAV pilot thanked various gods that he was in the canteen when it all kicked off, his MAV destroyed before he even got to the battle. Cleaners entered the pods to remove the blood that had escaped the pilots when blood vessels ruptured under the massive neural bombardment that came with MAV destruction.

"Karl, that guy Patri was in for less than a minute before he got fragged" one of the cleaners stated, matter-of-factly.

"Man, that's like, the fourth fastest death yet!" Karl replied.

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