The Red

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Haraway: beta continent 2151
The battle begun between electronics: a UGV driving along a shallow river, its wheels kicking up a spray as it went, smart material mudguards keeping the wheels clean. On the top the six wheeled UGV had a turret studded with sensors. The UGV was a noisy creature, its radar and lidar recording everything as it passed, sweeping back and forth. It's job was to find the enemy, make sure of the route and scout for explosives laid in the stream bed. It saw nothing except alien plants and animals.

The ground sensor was smaller than the UGV, and dumber. It and thousands like it had been pulled from a fabricator. Now it stuck half way out of the ground, its matt surface cataloguing every piece of light and radiation it saw. It noted the noisy UGV and transmitted a picture back down the fiber optic cable spooled out from it under the mud to the bulky armoured vehicles in hides off the road. The enemy was coming.

Derrick scanned the trees on either side of the long shallow river they were driving along. He stood on the rear gun of a technical. Some might have called it a utility vehicle but a technical was really what it was, a civilian six wheel drive colonial rover made by Land Rover of England with hillbilly armour stuck on, a general purpose rail gun on the front and a much bigger heavier automatic rail gun on the back where Derrick stood. Apart from Derrick there were four of them on the vehicle. Mitch was driving as usual. He was the oldest man in the vehicle (at sixty) and had a scraggly ill trimmed beard, but nobody called him gramps if they didn't want to be collecting their teeth. Mitch was just Mitch to everyone, Derrick didn't know where he'd come from originally except Britain, and that he claimed to have driven the last human controlled vehicle used to carry freight on British Roads. Derrick thought it was bullshit but humoured the old man anyway. He was certainly a great driver, with or without the vehicles computer.

Next to Mitch in the GMPG seat was Talgat, a tall handsome Kazakh who's beard in contrast to Mitch's was neatly trimmed and cared for. Talgat was a dandy and an exercise freak, complained constantly about the low quality of the rations and what the drugs used to keep Haraway's environment from killing them was doing to his body. Right now he was eating a cereal bar and muttering in Kazakh about the heat and the dampness while scanning the area, gun tracking with his eyes in a professional manner. At the back by Derrick were Pedro and Trish. Pedro was the newest member of the team, a nineteen year old from the Mexican company who he said proudly had been the son of a mobster. Apparently being a gangster hadn't been enough excitement for him... or perhaps the law had been getting too close. Pedro had run away to space and joined the Ravens. As the newest member of the technical's crew he was almost comically nervous about his job, constantly scanning with an expression of complete, almost quizzical concentration on his young face, his squad automatic weapon balanced on the door carefully. Trish was the only woman in the team. Small and dark and tough, she was an off worlder, born on Terranova, the first planet humanity had colonised. Trish was brash, outspoke, generous when she remembered and a deadly shot with the big payload gun that rested in her lap.

Derrick loved his mates like siblings. They'd been through the worst that Haraway's world could throw at them. They, Expanse Tactical Solutions, better known as the Ravens were the best of the corporate mercenaries and PMCs deployed to Haraway's World, who has a group were better than many state armies (or so most of the mercenaries believed). None of this reassured Derrick right now though, because he kept getting distracted by the girl sitting next to him on the side of the vehicle.

Past her he could see the jungle around them and the other vehicles of the Raven's main column. Technicals like the one he rode in, South African made eight wheeled APCs with 35mm rail guns on them which the Ravens called Roosts, trucks, tracked motorised cavalry vehicles with their heavy mounted rocket launchers and rail guns. It was hard not to look at her, hard to concentrate, Derrick tried to listen to his mates chat instead. "I tell you, I reckon we finally broke them here" Mitch was saying "I've never seen natives rabbit so fast as they did at that last outpost."

"You sure it wasn't just cause they saw your ugly mug old man?" Trish sang out from the back "If I see your face I want to run too, that's why I sit in the back." The girl was about eighteen, she wore a grey teashirt and shorts. She smiled at Derrick all the time, constantly looking at him. Derrick wondered what she was so happy about.

Mitch growled "Fuck you Trish, I'm making a serious point here. I mean, have you ever seen Harawayan troops turn tail so fast?" Blood dripped down constantly from the hole in her skull. Derrick could see daylight on the other side of that hole, he wondered how anyone could still be smiling after that and tried not to look.

Talgat scrunched his bar "No, I haven't, though most of them got away. I wonder if they'll come back to harass the security groups." Derrick tried looking anywhere but her, scanning the jungle more intently, averting his eyes.

Mitch yawned "Maybe, but if they're down to harassment and rockets then we've pretty close to won. They can't contest our control anymore. What do you think Derrick?"

"Uh... what sorry?" Derrick glanced down at Mitch as the Harawayan girl next to him began to crawl up to sit beside him.

"Are you zoning out up there?" Trish asked "you better be paying attention, we're still in the hot zone."

"Yeah I'm ok." Derrick took a deep breath "I think I got a touch of battle fatigue though. I need to go see a shrink when we get home."

Trish patted his leg "Yeah. Don't worry about it man, you'll get fixed up."

Derrick looked down for a moment then continued to watch his sector "Do you ever see her?" He asked as the Harawayan stood up next to him "your first red I mean?"

"See her?" Trish sighed "Derrick, you can't let it bother you man. They're not even human. It's them or us."

"I know... it's just she's sitting right next to me." There was a silence for a moment, only the soft hum of the technicals electric engine breaking the silence.

"Jesus Derrick" Trish muttered "Maybe you should let me take over on top cover, drop down and get some..." she was interrupted by the radio.

"All Oxide Victors: we're approaching a potential ambush zone, maintain dispersion and increase speed to fifty miles per hour and push through." Mitch pushed the peddle down and the vehicle accelerated, maintaining its computer calculated separation from the vehicle ahead. The stream was narrowing appreciably. For a moment nobody said anything, just scanning their sectors for any movement.

The near silence continued for five minutes until they pushed out of the narrow patch and the formation spread out to four vehicles wide again. "All Oxide Victors: maintain speed and dispersion, but watch your fire as we come up to the LZ."

Derrick breathed out, almost home, he could finally get his mind straight, the mercenary looked around, noticing for the first time how beautiful the alien jungle was. Then he saw a glint. The sun glittering on a lens. He swung the big rail gun towards it automatically, then realised what he was looking at. The turret of a tank: a massive cannon mounted on a low, unmanned mount with a sensor on the top "CONTACT! ARMOUR!" He pulled the trigger and a stream of heavy slugs ripped out towards the other vehicle, bouncing off its armour. Then two score tank level rail guns spoke in return.

The entire wide area of the river became a kill zone. One twenty millimetre shells driven at hypersonic velocities tore into them, explosive warheads flipping APCs and blasting technicals to fragments. Tanks emerged ahead blocking their path and Mitch swerved the vehicle around, swearing loudly as he tried to reverse cause. The radio was full of panicked orders, calls for artillery and air.

The technical traversed around and Derrick heard the roar of a high speed aircraft. His first thought was that air support had got here unusually fast today. Then he realised the silver jets approaching were not of a design the corporations used. Objects dropped from their payload bays as they screamed across and guided bombs added to the carnage, artillery was landing too, the smoke of burning vehicles filling the sky as ammo cooked off all around. Derrick held on tightly as the technical swung to point the way they'd come, spraying up dirt as it ran along the bank.

And Derrick saw the Harawayan tank company behind them. One of the tank turrets swung around and the main gun thundered. The canister round hit the front of the technical and Derrick felt himself flunk forward as the vehicle flipped, seeing his comrades blood explode out below him in slow motion detail as the canister tore through the lightly armoured vehicle. Derrick hit the bank and everything went black.

It had been in a little fishing village from which intelligence had believed that pirate attacks had been launched. Derrick had been a newbie then, though he'd been in a couple of fire fights. They'd been making an example of the place, burning the houses, looting them. Derrick hadn't like to think what some of the Ravens were doing to the locals. They'd been searching a house, clearing the rooms methodically when Derrick's motion scanner had picked something up. Derrick still remembered the rhythmic pings, like a heartbeat. Johnston, the squad leader before Trish had been promoted had pulled open a cupboard and yanked out a tall, rather muscular looking teenage girl. She'd yelped, obviously scared out of her wits and he'd laughed "Fucking Red" then turned to Derrick "Well newbie, looks like we'll have to stop calling you that. You know what to do" and then he'd stood back. Derrick had known what to do. He'd raised his gun and bit his lip and then pulled the trigger. He hadn't liked it, but he'd wanted to be a Raven more. After that he was in. The others had thrown him a party afterwards, where they'd drunk Bloody Marys till they couldn't see straight. It was tradition they said. Each Raven had to kill a Red. "They're not even human." Trish had said.

Derrick opened his eyes. He'd been thrown clear. The technical was turned over to the left of him. He saw Pedro crawling out from the back door, blood running down his face. He got three steps, raising his gun to shoot at something when a 25mm payload round lashed back at him and blow his head off. The corpse fall backwards. Derrick began to crawl down the riverbed. If he could get to the jungle maybe he could get away. His left leg hurt, he tried not to think about it. Then he saw a pair of boots ahead. Looking up he saw her. She looked older, there was a scar down her face and she wore worn looking combat armour, with an SDF patch on it, in her hand was a machete. Derrick wasn't sure if she was even real "P-Please! I didn't want too! I I'm not even armed!"

"Was my sister armed you animal?" The Harawayan dropped down near him and raised the machete "Do you even remember her you bastard?" Derrick opened his mouth to reply, and then he needed it to scream with as the machete came down on him. He suddenly realized what the Red had been so happy about.