Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

That’s a Keilvogel up there. I recognise the contrail: a centre line triple the size of the flankers. This world has such a glorious sky. I’ve never really taken the time to appreciate it, but as I’m lying in a swamp of blood and oil that used to be a battlefield, I might as well take some beauty from the moment.

History has come full-circle. Many medieval knights would be helpless when they toppled from horseback, due to the weight of their armour. As the battle lines swung back and forth, each army had a small group of squires who followed the line, armed with only mallet and stiletto. Their job was to sneak up on downed knights, stab the stiletto through one of the slots in their visors, then ram it into the knight’s brain with the mallet. I still can’t think of a worse way to go than lying there, watching that knife come down.

So, here I am. Lying, in armour, looking up at the sky. Our powered suits are the envy of many divisions, until they find out the one flaw: we only have about forty minutes of power. Then our formidable suits become inescapable prisons. Prisons that can be targeted as our protections are down. I’ve seen the remains of those fired from rail guns, slowly dissolved by acid dripped through their vents, broiled on open fires, the nauseating list goes on. Vengeful beings get creatively nasty.

Normally, we’re first in, devastation wreaked, and out within thirty minutes. The remains of the day are handed over to regular troops. Today was not normal. We lost three pickup ships to suicidal interdiction. As the third one fell, I knew we were being targeted. Multiple power trooper mutilations to livestream would do their morale good.

We held them for as long as we could, but the pitched battles raging about us betrayed their determination. One by one, my colleagues powered down. It’s not like we can pop open the suit up and hop out. We’re hardwired and tubed, needing two specialists apiece to assist us in and out.

Here they come. I can hear their wary steps squish in the goo about us. Given how quiet it’s gotten, I reckon we’re only minutes from a full-sortie rescue mission led by the power troopers of Battalion Three. We try to look after our own – unfortunately that only happens when we have a power trooper unit in reserve.

There’s a skinny little runt with a welding torch all hot, white and heading for my faceplate. This is going to hurt – him.

“Now!”

There’s the howl of sleight fields engaging and screams from a battlefield full of lightly-equipped would-be murderers.

The runt standing over me takes a half-clip of subsonic in the groin, which pretty much means the last things that pass through his mind are bits of his crotch.

I stand up, my top-mount swinging into line. A couple of very fast runts have nearly made the treeline. Their remains paint the trunks for six metres.

It’s over. There are a few other runners, but we let them run with only low-power pulses to make a scary lightshow. There isn’t one of us with more than sixty seconds of power remaining.

“Drop with three minutes to spare. Fucking genius!”

I wave my hand in acknowledgement.

“Thank me when it’s in the tactics manual.”

There’s a roar as a dropship clears the treetops, spewing power troopers as it comes.

“We thought you needed rescue!”

I give the descending commander a cheerful finger: “Give it a minute; we will.”

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