Descent into mayhem, p.1
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       Descent into Mayhem, p.1
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           Bruno Goncalves
Descent into Mayhem
DESCENT INTO MAYHEM

  Capicua Chronicles

  Book I

  Bruno Goncalves

  Copyright © 2014 Bruno Goncalves

  alfgon@sapo.pt

  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

  ISBN: 150275794X

  ISBN-13: 978-1502757944

  Foreword

  Hi there and thanks for buying my book!

  A special thanks to the following fellow indie authors:

  David Rose (@David_Rose1958), a South African author who took the time to give me immense critical feedback, helping me to revise this book into something better than crap;

  Felix R. Savage (@FelixRSavage), a Tokyo-based author without whom certain passages in my book simply wouldn’t make any sense.

  I´d also like to dedicate Descent into Mayhem to my daughter, Laura, who has taught me a few things about mayhem herself.

  Bruno Goncalves

  February 01st 2016

  PROLOGUE

  Ten kilometers south of the Northern Wetlands Conservation Hub, 14H05, 5th of January 2750

  First-sergeant Devonport suppressed a renewed urge to vomit. He struggled to get his labored breathing under control, dismally aware that it was only a matter of time before his stomach betrayed him. If there was one thing he knew about motion sickness, it was that the nausea would only settle down once the movement that was causing it had subsided.

  He pushed the uncomfortable thought out of his mind and focused on his situation instead.

  Devonport knelt before the crest of a steep elevation, his surroundings cloaked by rain that had been pouring down since the end of the previous month. Near to him a few stunted trees stood, their trunks turned up in a way that suggested the wind blew uphill on its southern face. There was still some strength left in the day’s wind, although it was only a shadow of the katabatic storm that had preceded it. The gusts instilled slight rocking motions upon the MEHEI as he waited, his helmet playing the falling rain’s static sound endlessly into his ears.

  Well beyond the elevation’s summit, someone keyed a radio three times. To Devonport’s ears, the sound was barely audible above the background static, but still he tensed as he caught the unmistakable squawks, steeling himself for what was to come.

  Maybe if I croak there’ll be a footnote about me in some history book, he mused, a humorless smile spreading across his face. His severely cropped moustache, almost Hitlerian in design, brushed against the edges of the undersized mouth-piece.

  Devonport’s stomach lurched as he rose to a standing position. He shifted his body forwards and began to advance in bounding strides, his pace picking up to a slow, ponderous jog. Pulling from its resting-pylon his sole weapon for the coming fight, he then launched his armored Suit over the crest and became airborne.

  The new feeling that invaded him had very little to do with nausea.

  He landed heavily with seven tons of hardware tipping perilously forwards. He instinctively buckled his appendages, slamming a right kneepad into the waterlogged ground while allowing his left footpad to slide forward to counter an eventual roll. The impact shook his body, the hydraulic interface’s shock-absorbing capability failing to entirely cancel out the vibrations. Gravity conspired with inertia to send him onwards with hardly-diminished speed.

  He began to savor the ferrous taste of his own blood.

  He pounded his way down the tall hill, unable to see the way ahead except for a twenty-meter extension before him, backsword held one-handed and high over his pauldron. The thick-bladed implement, originally a combat engineering tool, weighed over two hundred Kilo-mass and was single-edged, with the blade remaining rectangular right up to its abrupt end. The hilt allowed for a wide two-handed grip suitable for felling trees, and more than a fifth of the weapon’s weight rested in its sizable tungsten pommel. The only disruption to its smooth design was a robust crow-hook at the end of the back of the weapon’s blade.

  Devonport was counting on the crow-hook to afford him victory in the fight to come.

  He picked up several frantic squawks over the comm from his advanced observer. Moments later a disembodied male voice began to offer warning in Japanese.

  “Would be sweet if I knew what you were saying, kozo ...” Devonport rasped at the automated voice.

  His view suddenly became obscured by several virtual panels offering him urgent instruction in Kanji writing.

  The sergeant smirked but forewent any witty remarks. If only he had figured out how to change the language settings, then he wouldn’t be about to die from an overdose of ignorance. A twisted grin came to his face as the unit’s operating system began to display icons of incoming targets.

  He was presently under missile attack.

  He increased his pace to a bone-rattling sprint as the incoming missiles’ icons arced towards him. The fact that they were detectable at all made it clear that his unit’s active threat detection system was somehow operating, basically made him trackable as well. Devonport had no clue as to how to deactivate it. He turned towards the approaching missiles, banking on the rain to disrupt the Bloodhounds’ infrared detection systems. Rockets began to slam into the surrounding area in quick succession, all except for the last, which suddenly caught his scent.

  “Oh hell ...” he muttered in alarm, as the icon that represented the missile streaked towards him.

  Before he could think of an appropriate reaction, the MEHEI’s CPU took over, feeding quick instructions to the unit and its hydraulic interface. The articulated suit that enveloped Devonport’s body took on a life of its own and lurched forwards into a roll, the encapsulating chassis emulating its actions in almost perfect synchronicity. Warseed, christened as such by Devonport only the day before, rolled over the rough terrain as the missile struck the ground behind him and detonated.

  His body timed the gesture fluidly, raising the enormous frame onto its footpads after two stone-shattering rolls before concluding the descent into the jumbled valley below. As he reached a collection of stunted trees, it all became too much for him. He vomited into his mouth-piece and then clawed frantically at his face to tear it off, Warseed’s upper appendages copying his grasping motions flawlessly.

  As soon as he had stopped heaving, Devonport reined his emotions in and tried to estimate his attackers’ location. He reckoned the nearest enemy unit to be a little more than a kilometer away.

  The sergeant crouched into imminent contact posture and began a slow advance, sticking close to the cover provided by terrain and trees as he tried to pick up the rumble of approaching armor.

  Suddenly, a much nearer engine began to turn.

  Warseed’s principal power unit roared into life, forcing Devonport to put a kneepad to the ground as the turbine’s whine slowly chafed away at his depleted nerves. He prayed silently, hoping that the noise wasn’t as deafening as it sounded from inside the unit.

  Three agonizing minutes later, the tank was fully pressurized and the engine quieted once more. He unfroze his mind and made a quick decision.

  He shut Warseed down and waited in its dark interface cavity for the system to reset to its default specifications. He then reactivated the Suit and was pleased to discover that the threat detection icon was no longer visible. Feeling almost painful relief as he regained stereoscopic vision, the sergeant began to creep forwards once more. Before long he came upon an oddly familiar landscape.

  Devonport had once been plagued by nightmares about labyrinths. However fantastic the creatures that populated their corridors were, though, what had terrified his younger self was the feeling of being hopelessly lost, every step into the maze only managing to take him further away from safety and familiarity.

  Devonport now found himself on the move inside such a labyrinth, its chaotic
passages flanked by ferrous-red clay walls or by twisted masses of vegetation. It was a land carved by flash-floods from the monthly rains, the blood-red flow having created a convoluted topography that offered no clue as to what lay within. The passages were still flooded and Devonport found himself sticking close to the walls to keep his noise signature down, managing to paint his unit red in the effort.

  That labyrinth also happened to be populated with its own exotic creatures. But what creatures they were, whether of the artillery kind or of the cavalry kind, and in what numbers, he couldn’t hope to guess. Both carried the Bloodhound anti-armor missile, the former defensively and the latter offensively; the missile attack thus offered no clear ID either way. He ignored the growing ball of fear in his stomach as he advanced for a kilometer, pausing before every turn to listen carefully. A nagging suspicion began to eat away at him, one that claimed that his adversary had shut down engines and was silently awaiting his approach.

  The Rains slowly gave up their claim over the sky; for the first time in many days, visibility returned to his world.

  A rapid succession of squawks cut through the silence. Devonport froze at once, holding his breath as his ears sharpened to take in every digitally-scrubbed sound. He stood within a particularly wide passage that curved gently to his right. The right-side wall was sloped and formed the beginning of a densely forested island, one that extended out for at least three hundred meters. He couldn’t guess its maximum width from where he was, but saw that it rose to a good twenty meters above the natural passage.

  Four distinct squawks over the comm made his hackles rise. Devonport’s mind worked furiously; Imano had seen something important enough to make him risk compromise. He left the flooded passageway below and began to carefully ascend the island. As he slipped quietly into the trees, no more squawks made themselves heard.

  The sergeant advanced on all fours through the foliage, dragging the heavy blade so its crow-hook wouldn’t snag against roots over what felt like two-thirds of the island’s length. His observable universe became restricted to a ten-meter radius of rain-soaked flora. He consoled himself with the belief that if he were visible to the enemy, he would probably already have been fired upon.

  Two quick squawks pierced the silence and Devonport froze obediently. A few moments later he heard another three squawks, keyed slowly and deliberately. The speed of the squawks confused him, giving the impression of urging caution. When his spotter repeated the signal, Devonport slowly began to realize what he was trying to say.

  His heart began to beat steadily faster.

  He cautiously raised Warseed onto its footpads and approached the island’s left edge, trying to avoid damaging the vegetation to keep his noise signature down. The island ended in a sheer drop-off that afforded an ideal, if somewhat exposed, panorama of his surroundings. From there, he was able to discover that the passageway he’d abandoned eventually widened before joining the enormous floodplain that divided the valley. He searched for tracks, finding none. Belatedly he realized that he wouldn’t be finding any soon; the channel was still flooded with stagnant water.

  If his adversary was equipped with main battle tanks, his job of finding them had just become more difficult. The MBTs could maneuver and conceal themselves while submerged for quite some time before eventually needing to show themselves. He wondered how deep the waters were and peered cautiously over the sheer drop-off before him.

  His eyes widened in astonishment.

  Below him, immobile and immense as they snuggled against the cliff’s face, almost entirely obscured by the flood waters, were two self-propelled artillery pieces. They looked like obese crocodiles as they lay in wait, their tracks and chassis entirely hidden in the crimson water, only their colossal heads, long slender snouts and the tops of their towed ammunition trailers visible. The only things about them that broke the reptilian look were the elaborate muzzle-brakes at the ends of their barrels. The unit nearest to him, at rest directly below, had its barrel trained on the passageway he had been using only minutes ago. Its sibling was guarding against rear attack.

  Silently he prayed his warmest thanks, praising Imano for his divine guidance. Devonport didn’t believe in God, but Imano was a Buddhist and a life-saver, and he deserved a prayer or two. A direct hit from an artillery round would have been enough to make him find out whether God was more than just a fine idea.

  Devonport carefully studied the nearest crocodile’s head and realized that it was entirely caked with red mud; it was the upgraded OAP-3 that the boys from Fort Kiba weren’t supposed to have, which meant that if he didn’t destroy them in that moment, the vehicles would be able to make their escape into the water just like any MBT.

  He finally located what he was looking for; a circular hatch on the far side of the oversized turret, almost entirely obscured by a layer of clay. A less knowledgeable soldier might have confused it with the rebated radar dish on the turret’s opposite side, but Devonport had been privileged to begin his career as an artilleryman.

  Springing into action, the sergeant launched his unit over the drop-off and landed with all four appendages upon the OAP’s turret, graying out for a brief moment as the resounding shock from the impact nearly overcame him. Sucking it up, he quickly stood and lodged his backsword’s crow-hook into the crevasse between the hatch and its casing.

  Using the tungsten-rhenium blade as an improvised crow-bar, he then popped the hatch off its turret with remarkably little effort. He had expected no less than that result; the OAP’s hatch simply hadn’t been designed to deal with so much leverage.

  All at once things began to happen.

  As Devonport peered into the gaping hole he had just made, the OAP beneath him jerked into motion. The supporting OAP began to traverse its barrel , the turning turret’s rear biting deeply into the soft cliff wall against which it was nestled.

  The sergeant launched himself towards the supporting OAP, landing gratefully short of his target into the far more yielding water. Planting his footpads securely on the muddy channel bed, he waded towards his second adversary in frenzied desperation, already imagining the first artillery platform’s barrel aiming at his backplate. Dipping his helm beneath the second OAP’s traversing main gun, he hugged the tank and chanced a quick glance to his rear. The first artillery piece was nowhere to be seen.

  Clambering onto his new prey, Devonport repeated his previous performance, prying the hatch off the artillery piece’s still-traversing turret as its barrel began to push into the cliff-face itself. Not wasting another second, the sergeant thrust his gauntlet into the turret and began to swat at whatever hid inside.

  It was easy to distinguish man from metal.

  In a brief pair of seconds, Devonport was sure he had killed or seriously maimed at least two of the five crewmembers who operated the platform. The first, probably the ammunition handler, he crushed against the ammo rack at the turret’s rear, the hollow thump of Warseed’s gauntlet against his flak jacket making it clear that the man would be doing nothing for what remained of his life. The second, probably the commander if seating arrangement was anything to go by, tried to shy away from his searching grip like a puppy from an obsessed toddler. As Devonport closed his gauntlet around the soldier’s torso, he heard the loud pop of a pistol going off, followed by a sound more horrifying than any he had heard before.

  It was more of a high-pitched bark than it was a scream, but it still signaled the end of a life.

  The OAP’s main gun fired into the clay wall and the entire cliff came crashing down. Devonport hastily released his victim, rolling into the water before most of the compacted clay could bury him. The sergeant pulled himself free of the collapsed cliff-face to find the artillery piece interred by its own landslide. A rumbling roar from behind caused him to snap about.

  He was just in time to see part of the opposite cliff-face collapse into the water. Still unsure of the first OAP’s location, he decided to break radio silence.

  “S
cryer, this is Champion. Inform location of first hostile!”

  “You’re looking at it, Champion.”

  “Say again, Scryer.”

  “I said you’re looking at it, kozo. Your first hostile fled into deep water without knowing it didn’t have a hatch any more. It must’ve flooded and kept on going until it hit the wall. Right now your first hostile’s as buried as your second is. Not bad for a guy with a can-opener ...”

  The sergeant took a second look at the distant land-slide, finding that it was located right where the first OAP would have reached if it had kept moving in a straight line.

  “Roger that, Looker. Inform if your post has further threats on its scope, over.”

  “This post bids yours farewell and good luck, kozo,” Imano replied sadly, “my scope is full of incoming –”

  The communication cut off as several flashes brightened the overcast day. Devonport turned and watched in astonishment as the hill where his observer was embedded was pummeled by dozens of artillery rounds. They were closely followed by streaking missiles that dispersed antipersonnel bomblets over its surface, subsequently tearing the hill apart.

  The cacophony of detonations finally reached his ears, their massive reports making real what had only a moment ago seemed like another dream creature’s appearance.

  Imano was dead. If he wasn’t dead, he was almost certainly dying. Devonport digested that fact with more difficulty than he would have thought possible.

  In another part of his mind, the analyst was quietly at work, duly noting that the units he’d just dispatched had probably only been an improvised screening force. If the enemy had managed to triangulate his observer’s location finely enough to order an artillery strike, then that meant the presence of E-warfare units and dedicated artillery batteries, which implied that a combined-arms force was at play. That in turn meant that Fort Kiba had disgorged its entire complement, MBTs included.

  Warseed’s principal power unit sputtered into life again. Devonport hardly took notice; he was too engrossed with the sight of the debris as it rained down upon the ravaged hill. The rains had ended, he realized as his head begin to throb, taking away the one edge he could ever really have counted on.

  There was no longer any reason to remain there, but still he considered the hill as it resettled, realizing that it was possibly his decision to break radio silence that had cost Imano his life.

  I killed the man who saved my life, he concluded, aghast at the scale of his sin.

  Moving with the sluggishness of the shell-shocked, Devonport turned towards the supporting OAP´s burial site and began to search for his discarded backsword.

  It wouldn´t be wise to return to battle unarmed.

 
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