The sign outside the room was stolen from a construction site. It looked like this:
Inside the room, Special Agent Lynisha Taylor (United Nations Global Occult Coalition, PHYSICS Division, Strike Team 9999 ("Max Damage") was sitting on her bunk, flipping through a comic book. (Purists would insist that she call it a manga, but it was still a comic book, and she was AMERICAN, damn it, and AMERICANS read comics, not mangoes.)
She turned to the last page, sighed, and tossed the comic book onto the scratched table with its fake wood paneling.
She glared up at the Alert Indicator screen above her desk, which looked like this:
Lynisha continued to glare until, with a soft chime, the screen changed to this:
Lynisha got up from her seat, walked out of her room, and tapped a button on the side of the sign.
She retrieved her toothbrush and toiletries and headed down the hall to the bathroom to wash up for bed.
0500 the next morning.
Lynisha headed down to the mess hall for breakfast and a cup of coffee. She smelled frying steak and heard loud laughter and cheers coming from within.
As she'd feared, Cookie had canceled the usual breakfast and was serving steak and eggs instead. Everyone was gathered around Fredrickson, watching some kind of video footage on his tablet computer. The sound of crunching metal and explosions could be heard over the sound of cheering agents.
Damn. Must have missed the scramble by a couple of hours.
She grabbed a tray and headed to the chow line to get some breakfast. Cookie slipped her an extra-large piece of boneless ribeye next to her scrambled eggs and toast, giving her a sympathetic smile. "Next time, Fangirl," he said reassuringly.
Lynisha smiled back at Cookie, then picked up her tray and headed to a corner table to sulk and eat breakfast.
The steak was dry. And the eggs were a bit runny.
"… last of all: Wong, Serizawa, and Taylor. You three are off the duty rotation for the next two weeks. Your suits are due for overhaul. Report to the motor pool at 0600 for repair and refit," Commander Tai concluded.
Lynisha raised her hand. "Sir?"
"With all due respect," Lynisha said, "'Point' is in good shape. She's taken no damage, and all her vitals are green. I'd like to delay scheduled maintenance until the next rotation."
"All right, I'll take that under consideration," Commander Tai said.
"After careful consideration, the answer is 'No.' Dismissed."
"All right, raise your left hand," the engineer said.
Lynisha slowly raised her left hand above her head, and three tons of steel, ceramics, and buckypaper bilayered with dilatant gelatin followed.
"Lock joints in place," the engineer said.
"Confirm, joint locked," Lynisha said.
She lowered her left hand, and this time, three tons of steel, ceramics, and buckypaper bilayered with dilatant gelatin did not follow.
"All right, stepping into crush zone now." The engineer gingerly stepped into the shadow of the heavy limb and began using his impact wrench to remove the bolts holding the access panel in place.
Lynisha leaned back in the saddle of her fifteen-ton suit of armor and pulled out her comic book, flipping through the pages by the light of a battery-powered LED lamp she'd picked up at a dollar store.
"… well, all the connections look clear," the engineer said. "Hell, everything looks freshly cleaned. I don't really think we need to do anything more than wipe down the dust and squirt some lube here and there."
You mean the stuff I've been doing myself every day? Lynisha did not say.
The engineer hemmed and hummed as he continued to clean and polish the various connections. Satisfied with his work, he replaced the access panel, locked it back in place with his impact wrench, and stepped out of the red circle painted onto the hangar floor.
"All right, I'm clear of the crush zone," the engineer said. "You can unlock the joints and switch to raising the right arm now."
"Confirmed," Lynisha said, putting down her comic. "Unlocking joints. Raising right arm now."
"Lock joints in place."
"Confirm, joints locked."
"Stepping into crush zone now."
Lynisha picked up her comic book again and went back to reading.
Lynisha sat on her bed, staring nervously up at the Alert Indicator screen. She'd changed out of her duty uniform and was wearing her skinsuit in what STRIKE operatives called "granny panty style" — loosely around her hips, without the relief tubes in place, shoulder straps and sleeves tied around her waist like a prep school kid's sweater.
Her comic book was open to the same page that it had been open to one hour before, when the Alert Indicator switched from blue to amber with the sound of a harsh, buzzing tone. Her fingers drummed nervously against its cover as the Alert Indicator's clock slowly ticked away the seconds.
There was a soft chime and the sound of a bell ringing.
Lynisha swore and peeled off her skinsuit.
"Going on leave soon, Fangirl?" Cookie asked.
"Yeah. I tried to defer it, but they're making me do it this time. Guess the holidays are coming up and a lot of us are gonna request leave then, so we've got to use up as many mandatory leave days as possible now. Fucking stupid." Lynisha picked up an apple and tossed it onto her tray.
"Hey, it'll be fun. Have a good time lying to your folks about what you do for a living," Cookie said, grinning.
"I told them I'm a puppeteer for a practical effects house. That I make giant monster movies." Lynisha chuckled. "Not too far from the truth, I guess."
"True that. Your usual, then?"
"Nah. I'll have the turkey sandwich this time. Mix things up a bit."
"Done and done," Cookie said.
The scramble alert sounded while Lynisha was on the toilet.
She nearly tripped over her own pants leaping to her feet. She did smack her head against the stall door.
She almost forgot to flush, but decided that if she died this time, the last thing that she wanted her friends to think about her was that she was a heartless bitch who left piss-filled toilets behind for others to clean up after her, so she ran back into the stall and did that, at least.
She raced into her quarters and grabbed the freshly laundered skinsuit (still in its plastic wrappings from the in-house laundry) off her desk, then began running down the brightly lit hallways, screaming "SCRAMBLE SCRAMBLE SCRAMBLE!" at the top of her lungs.
Everyone else in the halls immediately pressed themselves against the wall as she ran past. One hapless flunky carrying a tray of coffee and snacks failed to do so and was blasted through like a twelve-year old encountering a linebacker.
Someone yelled, "GO GITTUM, FANGIRL!" as she ran past, and Lynisha grinned.
Pilot Lynisha Taylor to move to READY ONE Status at the earliest possible opportunity.
UHEC K3-297 ("Exclamation Point!") to be loaded onto C-779 Kingfisher transport at earliest possible opportunity.
Further information forthcoming under Code Word Flamberge.
Mission Briefing will be carried out in transit.
Rule number one of combat: Infantry is the Queen of Battle.
Rule number two of combat: Artillery is the King of the Battlefield.
Rule number three of combat: Remember what the King does to the Queen.
Landon felt the concussion of nearby explosions rattle his body as the artillery shells exploded all around him, cracking his already damaged White Suit. The bloody and broken remnants of Strike Team Scarlet Vanguard lay slumped against the mildewed walls of the abandoned World War II-era bunker. His entire world was shuddering at the roaring of eighty cylinders of diesel engine powering over 1,100 tons of steel.
He glanced up through the shattered machine gun port and saw the tank plowing through an entire grove of thirty-foot tall oak trees on its way to crush yet another concrete fortification under its gargantuan treads.
No, he thought to himself. This was not a tank. This was the fever dream of an insane Nazi weapons designer brought to life. This was Adolf Hitler's massive ego finding a physical manifestation that could overcompensate for his alleged single testicle. This was a nightmare. This was death and fury given form.
The P.1000 Landkreuzer turned its twin 280mm cannons onto a ruined fortification and belched fire. Half the hillside exploded into green flame as a gigantic green flaming skull, wearing the cap and totenkopf of an SS officer, floated above the enormous land battleship.
"HEIL HITLER!" the ghost of Michael Wittmann roared. "Es lebe das heilige Deutschland!"
"… The enemy is a Nazi ghost tank?" Lynisha asked, as she climbed into the saddle of her Orange Suit.
"Technically, it's a Nazi ghost that has invaded a Russian surplus arms depot and converted the decommissioned tanks into a spectral model of a theoretical Nazi superweapon that was designed but never built," the engineer said.
The Kingfisher dropped her from 30,000 feet over the smoldering forest, where the remaining members of Strike Team Scarlet Vanguard were making their last stand behind burning concrete and rubble. A few moments later, the air-ram parachute deployed with a loud THOOMP and a spine-compressing deceleration.
Her fingers brushed the touch screen of the iPod she'd mounted on the inside of her cramped pilot's compartment. She considered DragonForce, flirted briefly with Iron Maiden, was even about to choose Mastadon or Evanescence.
But in the end, there was really only one choice she could make.
As the fifteen-ton Ultra-Heavy Engagement Chassis descended through the air towards the battlefield, the sound of a single bugle playing a cavalry call could be heard echoing throughout the battlefield.
And then, just as UHEC K3-297 ("Exclamation Point!") crunched into the earth with all the force of a descending god, the music suddenly transitioned into an extremely unmartial boogie-woogie beat.
He was a famous trumpet man from out Chicago way…
"Oh God, it's Fangirl," Landon groaned.
"Better than Sex."
It was the kind of phrase that people threw around jokingly. As if anyone would pass up the chance for some horizontal tango action for anything else, right?
Well, Lynisha Taylor could honestly say that sex was overrated. Sex was awkward. Sex made you feel vulnerable. Sex was weird and dirty and involved bodily fluids and messy sheets. Ick!
Now, riding a UHEC, on the other hand? That was like being a God. That was like being Artemis and Athena and Hecate and all three fucking Furies all bound up into a steel-plated package.
Riding a UHEC was the furthest thing from "vulnerable" that a human being could ever feel.
She hit her assault jets just as she hit ground, and the ten-foot tall metal beast wrapped around her five-foot-two flesh-and-blood body surged forward like a charging tiger. BANSHEE was flashing a sequence of images intended to shock and awe the enemy: Allied ships coming ashore at Normandy. American factories churning out a B-17 bomber every ninety seconds. The 101st Airborne storming the Eagle's Nest at Berchtesgarden. Audie Fucking Murphy.
Meanwhile, the Andrews Sisters continued to sing.
They sang as she smashed a three-ton fist into a tank a hundred times bigger than she was.
They sang as she ripped her wrist-mounted piledrivers into the seven-foot wide bogies, smashing them off their axles and dislocating the treads.
They sang as she leaped out of the way of a half-dozen roaring machine guns, tracing a high arc in the air that brought her screaming down towards the massive gun turret, ready to deliver the killing blow.
They sang as the gigantic guns swiveled around impossibly fast and fired a 300 kg armor-piercing shell directly into her chest.
The cannon went WHUMP and her suit went CRUNCH and Lynisha went "FUCK!" and the entire package went sailing off towards the horizon like an errant foul ball.
Well. So much for the cavalry.
Landon put down his rifle. It was out of ammo anyway (not that it would do any good against that thing bearing down on his bunker.) He took one last look around the bunker at his valiant, doomed men, and dialed close air support on his suit's comm.
"Red Six here. Orange Asset is KIA. Requesting Broken Arrow. Repeat. Broken Arrow."
A brief moment of silence, broken only by the moaning of a wounded man. "Say again, Red Six?"
Landon grimaced. Figured. Even in his last moments, CAS was as dense as fucking rocks. "Red Six, Orange Asset KIA, Broken Arrow," he growled.
Another brief moment of silence. "Uhhh… Red Six? I'm reading Orange Asset re-entering your battlespace at speed," the CAS guy said.
It was then that Landon heard the distinctive opening riff of…
Not that song.
Anything but THAT SONG.
"GODDAMN IT, FANGIRL!" he shouted.
In the end, there were two things that saved Lynisha's life.
The first thing was that the Ultra-Heavy Engagement Chassis included a piece of black box TanGenTial technology called the Inertial Nullifier, which basically reduced the effective mass of the suit at certain times. It was extremely useful for, say, walking across the street without tearing the asphalt into bits with the ground pressure of a fifteen-ton suit of armor.
Lynisha was hit in the air, while on her upward rise, while the Inertial Nullifier was at full power.
The effect was rather like a baseball being thrown at a sheet on a laundry line. Rather than smashing through her body (like a baseball thrown at a vase), it instead launched her into the air, keeping most of its kinetic energy to itself.
The second thing that saved Lynisha's life was that she got hit at a high enough angle to avoid being slammed into a mountainside. And that the 280mm shell had an almost one minute travel time at maximum distance: enough time to clear her head from the blackout caused by the massive acceleration and regain her bearings while tumbling through the sky.
Not that she got away scot free. She was certain that her sternum was cracked. Her ribs were probably broken. And there was an unexploded armor-piercing shell embedded in her chestplate.
Lynisha got pissed.
This asshole thought he could come into her house with his SIEG HEILs and Hugo Boss uniforms and goose stepping and Final Solution?
Fuck that shit.
This was AMERICA!
(… okay, it wasn't really AMERICA!, it was the middle of Siberia, but AMERICA! was a state of mind, not so much a physical place, and Lynisha was as AMERICAN! as they came.)
She wrenched the unexploded shell from her chest, grabbed it in both hands, locked her limbs in place. She keyed up a secret BANSHEE program: one of many she had prepared on the off-chance that she might one day find a situation where they might be useful.
She positioned herself directly above the tank, where its big-ass guns couldn't track her. She clutched the basketball-sized shell in her armored hands — the instrument of her vengeance.
She fell like a meteor, blaring the battle tune of her generation through her loudspeakers, screaming "FUUUUUUUUUCK YOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOU!" all the way down, as the BANSHEE system kicked in.
They sang while UHEC K3-297 ("Exclamation Point!") descended from on high.
They sang while the Nazi supertank opened fire with all of its turrets in a desperate attempt to stop its death.
They sang while the ghost of Michael Wittmann screamed "WAS IST DAS!?" in confusion and horror at the bizarre specter it beheld.
They sang as an Ultra-Heavy Engagement Chassis, hidden inside a fifteen-foot hologram of Michael Jordan, slam-dunked an artillery shell through the turret of a possessed P.1000 Ratte Landkreuzer.
… regarding the last point on your memo: your request to discipline Agent Taylor for "unprofessional behavior" is denied.
Agent Taylor's profession is to wait for months at a time, maintaining maximum readiness for the day that we ask her to climb into a mecha-suit and punch eldritch abominations in the face.
If you can tell me how a woman with that job description is supposed to act, I'll take your request a little more seriously.
- Assistant Director "Marimba"
Western American Branch
United Nations Global Occult Coalition
The mess hall erupted into cheers as Lynisha entered, leaning heavily on her crutch.
She gave them a Miss America grin and pumped her fist as the rest of Strike Team Quadruple Niner erupted into a rousing chorus of, "For She's a Jolly Good Fellow."
Cookie brought her a tray with a Medium Rare ribeye steak, scrambled eggs, and toast. She basked in the praise as the big screen on the side of the mess hall played and replayed her battle against the Nazi tank. She carefully cut a piece off the steak and took a bite, chewing slowly, savoring the taste.
Best steak ever!