Captain Jane Bradley sat back in the canvas chair, one of the few pieces of furniture she had secured for her temporary quarters a few kilometres behind the front. The improvised table, a stacked pile of munitions crates, sat between her and Lieutenant Harry Church, and on it, 2 glasses and a bottle of fine whiskey.
The small canvas room was quiet and calm, unlike the nervous tension across the rest of the base. Jane and her Lieutenant were part of a very small group who knew why they were there, so close to the front, but not reenforcing the line. The rest of the soldiers in her company had been kept in the dark, absolute secrecy was necessary. Rumours were rife throughout the camp. She had heard men whisper of a new weapon they would be presented with, or that somehow they had dug a tunnel all the way under the lines. Someone had even suggested that there was a peace treaty being discussed, but that idea was laughable. This war had been going for generations, and there was no sign that it would end any time soon.
Unless this strike was successful. Jane didn’t let herself get her hopes up. The lines had been relatively quiet for the last 6 months, each side dug in, watching their opponents in the distance across the no-mans-land that currently bordered the two empires. But quiet never lasted, and tomorrow it would open right up.
She led her company across and into enemy lands. Artillery would be starting at midnight, beating them back and softening for the attack. She had personally checked the howlers were in position and ready to fire. She wouldn’t be leading her soldiers into a death trap without backup. But the key difference this time was the army behind enemy lines. An entire battalion was positioned behind the enemy lines. It had taken years of work, smuggling people through back channels, under cover of darkness. It was the biggest act of subterfuge done in this war, and pure luck that it had somehow not been discovered.
The trick to it all, were these strange new radios, that would bypass the interception of the enemy. Jane had hers on her at all times, kept off until 1000 hrs tomorrow when the events would start. The scientists had tried to explain it to her, something about bouncing radio waves outside of space. Jane didn’t have the education to follow along with it, and trying to remember the details just made her frustrated.
She carefully unstoppered the glass bottle. She had been saving this one for a special occasion. She carefully poured two glasses and replaced the stopper. It was her second best whiskey. The best was for when they got back safe.
She savoured the smokey flavours and looked across at her quiet drinking buddy. They never spoke much, they rarely found they needed to after serving together so long. She raised her glass to her compatriot.
“Ok Harry, to tomorrow, and victory.” she said. A half smile crossed the lieutenant’s face.
“And to bringing the company back home again,” he replied.
The last sip of the glass tasted strangely sweet to the Captain.
Another explosion echoed across the battlefield as a howler round landed. Jane checked over her metford rifle one more time. The steel barrel shined in the morning light, and its wooden stock comfortable in her hands. Further across, she was the armour that would be accompanying her and her company. A series of Matildas, a small group taking cover behind each. Captain Adam’s tank was at the lead, the custom armour plates giving it a distinct look from the rest of his armour. Lieutenant Church was off to one side, calming a few of the junior soldiers. Jane knew he would keep them safe.
Jane looked down at her timepiece and took a deep breath. 0958 hrs. The soldiers around her noticed her watching, and went quiet, watching the final seconds tick down. By the last ten seconds the entire camp was silent.
A cold wind whipped at Jane’s uniform, and a shiver went down her spine.
Jane pulled out her new radio, up till this point under top secrecy.
Her hand rested on the power switch.
Click. The radio buzzed to life.
The enemy lines ahead of Jane grew hazy in front of her eyes, then went blindingly white. She yelled out to the soldiers and dived behind the nearest tank. Less than a moment later, a force blasted the prepared troops with a deafening explosion.
Jane blinked as her vision returned. Her ears rang. She slowly dragged herself to her feet, trying to piece together what had happened, where she was, what was going on? Slowly the ringing quietened, and muffled sounds of the world returned. She looked out from behind the tank that had blocked her from the worst of the explosion. Soldiers who hadn’t taken cover were strewn across the ground. She saw them slowly coming to their senses and dragging themselves up from the ground, nursing bruises and scrapes from where they had been thrown to the ground.
But it was what was beyond them that drew her eyes. Across no man’s land, a moment before had been the fortifications of the enemy. But now, it was as if some giant had ripped a page out of the book of reality. An ugly scar seemed to be torn in the landscape before her. A swirling mass of purples and blacks arose like a wall in front of her, tearing into the earth, and somehow even ripping into the sky. She could see the jagged boundaries of her world, and looking at them, she knew, this was something unnatural. This was wrong. And it had changed everything.
Directly across from her, something bubbled in the swirling scar. And then slowly she watched as this something took form, as if walking out of a mist. This wasn’t her enemy, or at least not the enemy she had known and prepared for. Now standing erect, in front of the strange mist, was a huge mechanical creation. Vaguely humanoid, composed of strange painted metal, but huge, the hulking machine marched forward with purpose. She watched as her men trembled as the strange combat walker ambled towards them.
Then her new radio crackled to life. This wasn’t the invasion force or high command though. It was picking up some bizarre interference, like it was sharing a frequency with another radio that it couldn’t quite pick up. She couldn’t understand what was being said, but could hear confused and excited voices through the static. Then the machine stopped. From behind the curtain obscuring the new edge of her world, she saw strange lights burst forth towards the combat walker, taking strange forms, until suddenly, huge guns were bursting from the walker.
Jane’s morbid fascination suddenly shifted. A giant mechanical figure was one thing, but a weapon entering the no man’s land, that, she knew how to deal with. She raised her revolver, bracing it against her off hand. She inhaled and stared down the iron sights of her side arm, lined up on the head of the machine, exhaled, and gently squeezed the trigger.
She felt the springs stretch for the briefest moment, felt her heart beat, then the sound she had heard so many times before, the bang of her revolver firing. The bullet raced across the battlefield and found its mark. A single round wasn’t enough to stop such a machine, but it was enough to send a message. While the walker stopped in reaction to the shot, a round from their commanding officer brought life back into her company. Battlecries could be heard, and men began to charge.
However, from behind the walker , more things were forming within the swirling mist. Suddenly, a swarm of twisted tendrils burst forth, darkness lurching across the battlefield. Rifle fire answered, then the huge booms of tank rounds. This battle was like none Empira had ever fought before. But if Empira knew anything, it was war, and Empira was ready to answer.