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I look out over the edge of the Last City. The towers are blacked out now, power cut by a strike against the cities power infrastructure the day before. The sea is flat as a pond and so blue it's hard to tell where the it ends and the sky begins. The sand below me is white, the sun gleams on the ivory coloured armour of my knight. Out in the bay the waves lap against a massive tracked vehicle, its armour torn like cloth insides gutted by secondary explosions, an artefact of the Invaders, shattered now and dead. It's escorts lie at the bottom of the bay, unseen below the water. The last few helicopters and GEVs of the salvage team put aboard to pick over the wreck for munitions and technology are just now departing.

Around me maintenance crews and call to one another, frantically fitting out the knight for another sortie. The cockpit's impact fluid begins to drain from around me and I clear my lungs of it, leaning back in my chair and squeezing sustain fluid into my mouth, wincing at the taste before swallowing.

A pop up window showing my controller, Mary Curtis call sign Red King appears in front of me "You ok for another sortie Lina?" I must look terrible if my usually cold controller is asking such a thing.

"White Queen is undamaged and fully functional. As soon as they've finished fitting the external boosters and replenishing stocks of munitions I can launch."

"That's not what I asked you Lina. Are you ok?" Mary is concerned. About me or the mission. I'm not really sure which.

I close my eyes and see explosions and vector lines, hearing only the sounds of the cockpit "I am... fit for another sortie."

Mary frowns then looks at her board "We don't really have much choice. Stand by for briefing download."

The computer accepts and a map flips up "Your target is the enemies main operating base for this offensive, code named Fortress Ivnos. It is approximately one hundred miles from the last city. Your mission is to enter Fortress Ivnos and destroy the enemy command unit." A picture flashed up: a large centaur-type unit of the invader, fashioned in their usual gunmetal coloured armour "And operations bunker." A buried building with a stack of antenna on top "The intent here is to knock out the enemies centre of gravity, and shut down their teleoperated and semi-autonomous fighting units."

"The Fortress is across the straight and around twenty miles in land. It is likely the Invaders will divert the bulk of their naval and air assets to intercept you as soon as you are detected. Once you make landfall their operational reserves and second invasion wave lie between you and the Fortress." A window scrolled opposition types and unit numbers, I look it over, Mary regards me for moment then, sighs and continues "For this reason you'll be using additional SRBs and external fuel pod in addition to your usual HSLAER* system for maximum speed, and follow a route using the straight islands and metallic wreckage to minimize the chances of detection. This will require extremely precise and high G manoeuvres on your part. On the way in you'll be supported by defence suppression missiles launched from our side of the straight. "

"Once you reach the base you'll still have to break through its defensive laser towers and at least six enemy class five assault units which seem to be posted on guard." Class Fives are big humanoids, a full twenty meters above the battlefield (double the height of my own knight) used by the Invaders as shock troops. "It's up to you how you do it, but don't get tied up fighting them. You'll need to quickly move in and destroy the targets before they can retreat."

"I understand." I look at Mary and realise this will probably be the last time I see her. "Mary, I just want to say, well, it's been good to work with you. You're a good operator."

Mary pauses then looked at me "Come back alive Lina."

"You know that's very unlikely" The cockpit begins to refill, external weapons systems spooling in the last rounds of cannon and missiles, reactive armour and boosters show all green. I take a deep breath of the liquid as it reaches my face then sit back and began the prelaunch checklist. After a few moments I speak up: "All Systems Green. White Queen. Lina Arstatis. Going." The catapult fires and I am hurtling out over the bay, the G force like a mountain on my chest.

I pass over water, my flight avionics overlaying the route on the screen for me as a corridor of blue lines, undetected so far. Enemy radar and lidar pulse from the coast, some flicking off suddenly as a missile gets too close. I stay low, my knights legs and head retracted, arms locked back in acceleration position, flying a few centimetres above the waves. I'm mostly worried about infra-red detection, the boosters on my back run hot.

And then suddenly up ahead I see an Invader, a warship, catamaran shaped, with a raised radar tower and VLS tubes on deck. It sees me too, and there's missiles in the air. I wait for the missile to come in then suddenly jink right releasing decoys. The missiles go past, closing speed too fast for it to make the turn and explodes. I hit fire the plasma gun mounted in my suits chest and it chews up the vessel's superstructure like a giant dog. Something explodes and then I'm past, hurtling down another vector as the threat warning system begins to beep frantically. I switch on my defensive jammers and stick to the route the avionics gives me, watching the path shift as new threats appear on the board.

Missiles explode in the water on both sides, others simply missing high, spiralling into the sky to self destruct. The sea lifts with the explosions of artillery. I pull behind the bulk of a shattered sea fortress, one of ours, destroyed in the battle of the straights. Missiles slam into the other side of its thick armour as I go past. Lasers are starting now, mist rising around me. I engage some sources of fire, mostly just evading as I close rapidly on the shore. There's a cliff here, with a valley cutting further inland, my avionics lead me down it, jinking frantically as the rock walls, survivors of centuries of wind and wave blow apart under a rain of artillery.

"Ten miles to target" Mary tells me as I race up the gentle incline at the end of the inlet and hurtle out onto solid ground. I pull in behind a ridgeline as the great enemy machines on the horizon begin to engage me, rounds bursting everywhere, plasma and explosives splashing upwards, pillars of earth briefly linking ground and sky. "External Boosters nearly depleted. Prepare for normal battle manoeuvres!"

The Type Fives are coming up ahead, four more of them than expected. Huge units with cyclopean glowing eyes on their metal heads. They open fire, missiles and energy beams blasting the area all around my racing White Queen. In return I dodge and weave, never still long enough for them to draw a bead. "Boosters depleted! Purging!" The booster system falls away and my knight's legs and arms come back into motion. I land on my feet, wheels allowing me to zoom along and duck down through the legs of one of the Type Fives, blades slashing out on either side, it falls behind me as I coast on momentum and my suits internal boosters, turning hard as I hurtle between base defence towers, my VLS system now spraying missiles everywhere on lock on after launch courses.

I see the command unit to one side, swinging around on its four legs from a building its constructing and engage it with my left arm rifle. It returns fire, pulses of energy slamming into my shield as we close rapidly, my right arm gun and chest mounted plasma rifle coming into operation as I get an angle. The command unit shudders, its own shielding and armour absorbing a huge amount of punishment as I fire my boosters in frantic sequence, trying to avoid as many hits as I can. Something explodes inside it and begins to sway, its fire slackening, I pulls beside it, firing into its back as it passes, and it explodes, bowling me over, stripping away layers and coincidentally flattening much of the base. I right myself, notice the Type Fives are still moving back towards the base and move to engage the Command Bunker.

Two vans have already broken free of the bunker, probably the actual meat of the operation centre, simple protected by the bunkers armour. I lock them up and engage them as well as the structure, diverting my missiles from other targets to hunt them down. The building collapses and both vans burn and I spin to a stop "Mission com..."

And then something fast and gunmetal coloured slams into me, hurtling me into one of the bases buildings and coincidentally flattening it. I engage with plasma but it's already gone teleported? and two more are on me. I launch missiles and they vanish, then reappear, spiralling around me, firing streams of red lightning. I try to dodge but one hits me and the White Queen freezes, and I get a shock, screaming as gel around and inside me conducts electricity through me.

I don't die though. The White Queen's systems manage to keep that from happening at least. Instead I hang in the cockpit as the remaining screens show invader craft appearing all around me in a circle.

Lina Astatis says a voice, sounding in my ear, overriding my failing data links Have you ever wondered what the Invaders are?

"Who cares? You've killed so many people. Aliens? Native Sentience? AIs? Future People? I don't care what you are."

Your people started this war. You attacked us. We were quiet willing to trade, to spread our ideals through more peaceful means.

"But never to leave us in peace to live the way we wanted. War was the only way to stop you." I cough, and taste blood.

And are our ideals so bad that you're willing to lose a war to stop us? The invader's voice is soft We'll make your people rich, just like we made all the other people of this world.

"We just want to live as we want. Not as you want."

You'll just live as your elites tell you. They lie to you allot already. Your city is not the last. Others exist under our protection, despite this terrible war The gathered forms drew their blades as one Your mission is a failure by the way. You should realise that our combat units can be controlled from anywhere. All you managed to do was make us switch to another station. Now all that remains is for the planet to watch you die.

"Go to hell." My own anger surprises me. I didn't think I had anything left. I flick the breaker reset switch and the suit restarts, allowing me to stand "Come at me one at a time or all at once. None of you will walk away from here."

Alas, yours shall not be a heroic last stand. The machines raise their arms and a massive fence of energy appears around me. In the distance I see the trails of artillery shells rising all around me, converging towards the pit. I stair skywards and... the trials pass above me and slam into the Invader machines on all sides of me. Detonations send them spinning away. Others teleport out, appearing only to be chased by more missiles.

I make good my escape and Mary's voice sounds on the radio "Lina! Uh... White Queen this is Red King. Mission Successful. RTB."

"You've taken control of the invader machines somehow?" I ask, watching as the Type Fives and the gun metal Knights begin to attack one another. Sheer weight of fire is overwhelming the teleporting enemies, and I wonder if they're manned. Perhaps we can actually find out what the invaders are... that's not my mission though.

"Yes. When you destroyed the command system there control switched to a new station. We hijacked the switch over. It was need to know information, and I'm sorry, but you didn't need to know."

"It's alright." I watched the sea coming up ahead, now friendly fighter aircraft skimming towards the battle behind me. "I'm coming home."

  • High Speed, Low Altitude External Rocket