It was good to be the boss.
The Wastelands of Phoenix had a long history of conflict, stretching all the way back to the Arizona Insurrection. Today, here, it was occupied by several armed gangs carving out a piece of the desert and preying on the goods coming in and out of the megacity. And soon enough, those ‘several’ would be ‘one’.
They were the Wasteland Rangers, one of the newest gangs of the mesas, and he was their leader. A tough son of a bitch, if you asked him. Staging a coup against the Wings of Flame, he had spent a year biding his time and building up mechs to be able to take on the larger forces. On top of the usual Chickenwalker forces he had a few Sportwalkers, VTs, a couple of choppers, and his own personal pride and joy – a shiny new Warrior, fully equipped with an old-fashioned heavy rifle.
He loved this damned gun. It had a nice long stock to keep the shots stable, a custom underbarrel targeting module, a chrome-lined bore, and a heavy autobolt feed system. It was so powerful, in fact, that it had to use old-style brass cartridges just to handle the force of the gunpowder! The new ventilation in the back of his warehouse showed just how good this thing was. Once they captured a few more mechs and showed that they were serious contenders, nothing would stop them.
And today was that day. In an old industrial park far outside the borders of modern Phoenix, the Ranger mechs patrolled and prepared to move out under the auspice of the setting sun. A token force would be left behind in case of counterattack, while they attacked at night, blitzing a nearby outpost to capture their units. The boss oversaw everything under the orange glow of his Warrior’s sensors, brandishing his rifle proudly.
“I still don’t like it, sir,” a sheepish voice sounded on the comm, from a small IWACS command centre within the warehouse. “The Data Angels are bad people to be pissing off. You sure we shouldn’t wait? Get some of the other groups on our side?”
“Data Angels…pah!” The boss laughed heartily, looking over at his small army as they roamed the area, glows of red and orange following their movements as they kept watch. “What’d they ever do for the Wingies, anyway? They’re just bluffing. No way they’ll spend resources on the Wastes.” The Data Angels had interests in Phoenix and the rest of the Sonoran Desert, to be sure, but they were political, economic. Secret test sites? Gang unification? An attempt to control the Sonoran region? Ridiculous! They were a bunch of misguided nerds, nothing more.
After a few moments of pointed silence, the operator spoke to his boss again. “Sir, a high speed transport just passed over our position.”
“So? It’s probably headed somewhere else.” The APU quickly looked up into the skies to see, high above them, a dark grey shape streaking past and toward the horizon. Just another Magus heading to another hotspot, probably on the Pacific coast. The Sonoran didn’t attract many Mages, for whatever reason. Supposedly it was cursed, of all things…how ridiculous!
“That’s the thing, sir. It opened its hatch as it passed over us, then closed it. But there’s nothing there…” Expectantly, several Sportwalkers raised their head-cockpits to get a closer look at the nothing mentioned, as though awaiting a heavenly light from above. There was an eerie silence as activity stopped, and the boss was left alone to brandish his gun at those under his employ.
“What are you guys doing? Don’t tell me you believe this curse bullsh-”
KA-BOOM! As soon as the boss opened his mouth, a burst of high explosive missiles rained upon several of the Chickenwalkers, blowing the spindly-legged coffins apart before they could react. Other than the missiles, radar and other indicators showed nothing, as thugs ran to their mechs and support staff loaded into what vehicles they could escape from. The first burst, and the following rain of linear cannon shots punching small craters into the earth, sparked a wave of activity – electric cycles speeding out of the area as fast as they could, Sportwalkers firing their head vulcans in the vain hope of tagging an invisible target, VTs unfolding to bring their guns to bear, and Variable Choppers frantically stretching their legs to stand and prepare for a high-speed takeoff.
“Goddamnit! All right, anyone who runs, I’ll kill myself!” the boss yelled, lifting his rifle and looking this way and that for the attacker. They had tried to warn him, hoped he had some plan up his sleeve, or believed his boasts that the Data Angels would never find him…for whether it was the Sonoran, or Ibiza, or anywhere else, the Angels had a very efficient method of dealing with betrayal.
Its name was Black Color.
“How do we keep up with this thing?”
A muffled ground impact heralded the invisible machine’s arrival, even as all forms of sensory input rendered detection impossible otherwise. All active machines turned and fired on that point, their poor trigger discipline rewarded with near-impacts on the other machines in the firing line. Every so often, one could catch a glimpse of red light, the only sign of an enemy presence…at least, when the machine wasn’t attacking.
“What kind of Magus is this?!”
A few more white shots took down another pair of Chickenwalkers, their primitive leg construction putting them out of the battle outright. Electric free-rollers whined as the Sportwalkers moved to overtake, their linear cannons sparking as they charged and fired at the barely-visible target.
“It’s like a ghost…”
One lucky shot managed to hit the enemy machine in the shoulder, its camouflage momentarily disrupted before receding entirely, revealing a black and grey Magus APU and putting the machine back on radar. Without missing a beat, it weaved past the immediate reprisal as the deployed Variable Tanks started pelting it with indirect fire, deploying its high frequency blade and cutting open the head-cockpit of the Sportwalker which hit his armor.
“Man down! Man down!”
That was all that happened before the machine went invisible again, more missiles following…the boss shooting his rifle wildly as he saw his troops fall. The Sportwalkers were first, strafing and firing vulcans as they tried to run, before being crippled as Black Color appeared briefly to cut off a leg from the garage-built machines. The VTs were next – after the first was destroyed, the others hurriedly undeployed and drove into the distance…though that distance was cut short as their tires were punctured and then their cockpits shot, executing the pilots.
“It’s a massacre! Forget the boss, save yourselves!”
By this time the choppers had deployed and lifted their legs, strafing the positions with rockets. Another lucky blow hit Black Color, but it didn’t stop it from performing a booster-fueled leap and sundering the cockpits with its HF blade. And then, the civilians – a rocket seemingly saved for every truck, letting them careen down the desert and take care of the ‘cycles, the riders trying to swerve before impacting right onto the overturned transport.
The boss, though, was steadfast to the end. He was in an APU, a real modern military machine, with the best gun dirty money could buy. And this ghost couldn’t hide forever. “You don’t scare me! Come out and fight me like a real man, coward!” His APU swung its rifle aside as he raised the left arm, a plasma projection blade appearing just before Black Color’s red optic filled the pilot’s vision.
It was the last thing he would ever see.
Eighteen hours later, an ESAF recon team dropped into the old industrial zone to overlook the aftermath of this battle. As casualty totals were calculated and investigators ran traces on the black market mechs, a few troopers stopped to look at the severed arm of a Warrior, still tightly clutching an oversized rifle embedded into the ground.