Interlude : Battle : 2

The first that General Greggs knew of the growing calamity was a soft tone from her earpiece, an automated warning from SPARTACUS’ lower functions. It indicated an unacceptable rate of attrition.
Her brow furrowed, eyes rapidly scanning the field before dropping to the screen at her side. She saw nothing to concern her, at first.
The Grand Host still roiled and churned under the onslaught of her drones. The Union forces still encircled their foes, still poured their own gifts and exotic weapons into an enemy rendered as vulnerable as they could possibly ever be.
“No,” she gasped softly, as she saw the source of the computer’s alarm.
The Brides Of Zeus had moved to the front of their mob, true enough, but they hadn’t stopped there. Hadn’t really even slowed down. Instead they surged ahead, charging madly into the encircling forces, hymns and wild laughter rising to contend with the bedlam of battle.
The members of the Union’s Intervention Forces, perhaps the single most elite and decorated Ultrahuman combatants on the planet, came face to face with their enemy’s ultimate weapon, and they could not cope.
In the camps and training grounds of the Union there was a question which was occasionally bruited about.
“Which was more important, skill in battle, or raw Ultra power?”
The military’s answer had always been that, Prevailer aside, the two went hand in hand. The Pantheon reliably squandered its mightiest Ultras, deploying them piecemeal in the midst of hosts of disposable fodder, leaving them easy prey for outnumbering throngs of Union forces to pick apart. The forces of the enemy could never become veterans, never really master their gifts, not when their first engagement was so often their last, while the Union’s forces would grow strong on the fruit of hundreds of victories.
This answer had held for a long time. Year after year the Pantheon tide had risen, and year after year they had been utterly broken. The Union’s way of war could no longer be doubted.
It didn’t hold any more.
The gifts that the Brides deployed in this battle would not have been out of place in Regime Fists, had been carefully selected by Death and her minions as the best of all possible weapons. They were utterly lethal.
Comet waved a hand, and the trajectory of every incoming attack within the area she mastered altered in an instant, lines of folded space and projectiles alike seeking their points of origin. Darwin clenched a fist, and a wave of insanity rippled forward in a great cone shape, humans and Ultras without sufficient durability dropping their weapons and leaping upon one another in a frenzy of violence. Sodom made no gesture at all, but a statue of salt bloomed where once a Union officer, a champion in the Gauntlet had stood.
These Ultras and dozens more just as mighty pushed into the Unions’ ranks, and there was simply no answer to be found.
The Union had always relied upon greater numbers to subdue the occasional Pantheon God who proved too strong for their usual tactics. Their computers would analyze the enemy’s gift, they’d search their own membership for appropriate countermeasures, and they’d ultimately execute the optimal counterstrategy.
There was no time for that here, and not nearly enough resources for so many threats at once.
SPARTACUS had been trained on the Interventions, and reacted to a powerful Ultra by making it the focus of its battlefield control, tasking nearby assets to appropriate countermeasures. Its instructions were worse than useless in this situation, as the enemy’s threat profile scaled towards the apocalyptic. Each Union combatant heard the chimes for their nearest foe over and over as each exceed the other’s threat profile, were ordered to the aid of their colleagues a dozen times in as many seconds.
General Greggs saw all this as it happened, watched the Pantheon’s champions press into her forces’ ranks, and knew that she should call the retreat. But no words came out.
They had bested this enemy. They’d done it so many times. She had bet everything that today was no different, had pressed forward with this bold strategy and had ultimately wrong footed her foe and forced them into a bombardment that should have proven lethal. Everything she’d done, in her whole career, had been leading to this moment, the moment when she defended her nation, broke the Grand Host and saved the world.
The soft chime of the com broke the spell, after wasted, fateful seconds.
“Retreat!” she shouted into the com. “Get out of there!”
There would be no need to specify the order of withdrawal, or the nature of departure. The com system was better at that than any human could be. It would interpret her words, would filter the directives to those who needed to hear them. She’d done the important part, she’d made the choice, provided the agency that the computers could never have.
“Gut face”, said her com, its voice a young girl’s, her accent harsh and irregular, like someone sounding out the words.
“Retreat!” she repeated, even as it responded “Boot face!”
General Greggs didn’t waste any more time on her com, gesturing instead for an associate to lean over, making a handing gesture at him.
“Fuck bitch!” said her com.
“Who is this?” she asked, though she had a pretty good idea.
“Vampire talks!” said the com. “Your words go through dark, so they are mine!”
Even as the enemy spouted their propaganda she could see her delegate giving the retreat order, see its effects propagate out across the force. This communication interdiction seemed to be confined to her own person.
“This is General Greggs, I’ve been authorized to offer amnesty and accommodations, contingent upon your immediate surrender…”
She hadn’t, of course, but the longer she could keep the enemy commander distracted the longer it would be before their Host took any further decisive actions.
“No Surrender! We kill you, kill you twice! Even suffer more, suffer like stars, cold in high sky!”
Across the field, the Union fell back. More accurately, they fled. There was no way to really give cover fire when your enemy was invincible, no way to shield an ally when the attack in question would pierce through you both.
The Intervention Forces appeared to rout, their fate the same as any of their victims over the years. In the face of superior power they could do nothing else.
“We will beat you!” shouted General Greggs to her adversary, trying desperately to keep her occupied. “Your losses today will seem like nothing compared to-“
A burst of girlish laughter cut her short.
“No losses, see Easter work?”
And, appallingly, impossibly, the Pantheon’s shield climbed back into the sky.
A second Ultra with such a gift? The Pantheon had held back such an asset all this time? The general grabbed for an imager, cursing under her breath as impossible and nightmarish explanations warred within her mind.
In the heart of the Pantheon’s throng a pile of corpses was being assembled. Ultra bodies were passed hand to hand through their ranks, arriving at the feat of a dusky woman in white, and then rising, beyond all reason, to their feet, alive once more.
“Losses for you!” chirped her com. “All you be losses!”
With that pronouncement the Ultra who generated the shield took action, pushing her arms up and exerting her gift once more. The shield shot outward, passing rapidly through the pursuing Host, through the retreating Union personnel, and reestablishing itself around the entire battlefield.
It might have passed through the Host, but it didn’t show the same courtesy to the drones, barging them out of the air with brute power and pushing them back beyond its boundaries. The Union’s air superiority was stolen away in an instant.
“All forces…” said Greggs, having now grabbed her subordinate’s com and brought both devices to her mouth.
And then she stalled, her words turning to sand in her throat.
What could she do? What order could she give? If they withdrew the enemy would recover all of their losses, this ‘Easter’ unmaking the effect of their assault in the span of a few hours. But if they did not withdraw they would fall.
That much had become apparent. These Brides were simply too fearsome to face in a pitched battle. She didn’t need to read the detailed casualty ratios to know that. She’d pit her troops against anyone in the world, if the power was even remotely equal, but these Goddesses broke all the rules.
“What do we do?” cried a junior officer, com discipline breaking down in the face of annihilation. The device showed a brief video broadcast from his location, where a Bride was hurling Pantheon forces into them like discuses.
“We fight!” she said, not realizing until the words had left her mouth what she was going to say.
But as soon as she said it, the truth of the matter was obvious.
Retreat was a trap. The shielding Ultra had a range that was measured in miles, and with the skiffs hedged out the Pantheon forces were no slower than their quarry. No matter how far they withdrew they couldn’t expect to escape.
Beyond that, this battle’s outcome was unacceptable. They’d done damage, had given lives to deal damage. Half of the Grand Host or more, perhaps ten percent of the Brides. If they left now it would all be undone, the attrition vanished away and unhappened by the Pantheon’s arbitrary horseshit.
“You die!” sneered her shadow, the voice no longer pretending to come out of her com. “Easter let us kill you ten times! Burn to death, maggots in cunt! Your time over!”
She put aside the threats of the enemy’s teenaged commander. She was irrelevant, save for any weaknesses that she might betray. She’d already blundered badly by revealing their resurrection trick before the withdrawal could be completed. Greggs felt no compunctions about leaving her in command for the Fourth Army to take care of.
“Move out, targets as indicated. Let’s finish the job!” she told the com, sketching out a hasty plan across its screen.
It was rushed, was flawed, but it would have to do. She could have done better with a few hours of preparation, could have benefited from the usual rehearsal session with her advisors, her commanders and SPARTACUS, but the option wasn’t there. War had returned to its roots, and her training had emphasized, should the situation come up, that a bad plan now was better than a great plan later.
And hers was a bad plan. They needed to kill Easter, needed to cut off their enemies attrition protection at its root. But they had no way to reach her, no way to cut through the Brides in order to force her to expose herself.
No way but one.
The Brides were not soldiers, they were barely warriors. They were murderous children, and they had no restraint, no discipline. Given the chance, they would charge.
Greggs orders gave them that chance.
At her command the Union’s forces reversed course, headed back into the teeth of their pursuers.
The sudden reversal gave them the advantage at first. The Pantheon’s forces, heedless and slipshod in victory, hadn’t bothered with anything so lame as a formation. Their pursuit had stretched them out by their speed, each gathered only with those who shared their particular velocity.
As the Union turned about they enjoyed a brief numerical advantage, catching their fleetest pursuers off guard with a sudden swell of numbers, disposing of those among them who weren’t invulnerable before the next wave caught up.
Greggs watched the action on her com, giving rapid fire orders as both surrounding forces collapsed onto their enemy, as the chase became a battle once again.
Their brief advantage couldn’t last. The Brides among the enemy’s number were still too resilient, too fierce to be defeated in detail. They stalled the push long enough for more Host members to arrive, for the Pantheon’s throng to recover its weight of numbers.
“Pull back,” breathed Greggs, and the veterans of the Union fell back once more, uninterested in a straight up battle.
This time there was no call to feign a route, no attempt to present this as anything other than a tactic. They rushed away from their enemy without subterfuge, hoping that the Pantheon would repeat its earlier mistake, would once again segregate by speed and give them a brief numerical edge.
They weren’t disappointed.
Even as the process was repeating Greggs was scanning frantically, swiping the com’s viewpoint between all of the sniper units she could find. None of them could draw a bead on Easter, the enemy still clustered too thick around her.
It wasn’t any deliberate attempt to shield her, of course. It was simply the natural consequence of her gift, that Ultras were constantly converging on her with the bodies of their sisters, or pushing their way out after resurrection.
A tone dragged Greggs attention back to the main forces, whose hit and run tactics were becoming ever less effective. They’d never figured out a way to counter the Brides who struck at range, and their losses were beginning to preclude even momentary numerical advantages.
She had to do something more, this wasn’t going to work.
“Piss nose!” snarled her shadow. “Rot heart!”
She turned to face it straight on.
“Coward!” she yelled at it. “Vampire is a coward!”
An incoherent yell of anger was her only reward.
She pressed on.
“You are afraid of me, afraid of General Greggs! I am too strong for you!”
“No one is-“
Now it was her turn to interrupt the murderous child.
“I am too strong for Zeus! I am the strongest general! I am better and stronger than all of you!”
“I kill you! I kill you! KILLL!” shouted the shadow, its voice filled with a baffled rage.
How old was their enemy, to throw such a tantrum? It reminded Greggs of her own daughters when a toy was taken from them.
“You kill no one!” she shouted back at it. “Hide behind all the strong Goddesses, hide away so you can’t see me! You are too scared to show yourself!
She paid no attention to the shadow’s response, simply turning instead to the sniper’s perspectives.
There, as always she could count on her enemy’s arrogance and stupidity.
The Goddesses in the middle of the Pantheon formation were dropping down to their knees, deliberately crouching low so that their leader might lock eyes with the one who taunted her.
In exposing Vampire they also exposed Easter, too busy with her own work to bother dropping down for her bosses pleasure.
Weapons cracked, their fire inaudible in the general din of battle, and Easter toppled to the ground, her self the only Goddess on the field that her gift couldn’t save.”
“Coward bitch pussy!” shouted Vampire, not realizing that she’d already thrown away her greatest asset. “Where you? I kill you to death!”
Greggs couldn’t bring herself to formulate a reply, helpless laughter rising to her lips, wild and despairing.
Had she done enough? It was tough to tell, but it looked like, with the bullshit resurrections over with they’d taken out about a little under half of the enemy’s forces, about a third of their elites. With these losses, maybe the Fourth Army could finish the job.
“I’m right here,” she told the shadow, when her voice was her own again. “We’re not going anywhere. Come and get it.”
The Pantheon’s Grand Host did exactly that.
Observers throughout the Union’s leadership structure flinched away from their screens, wiped tears from their eyes and took careful notes as the heroes who’d defended them for decades made their last stand.
They lasted until the fall of night.

8 thoughts on “Interlude : Battle : 2

  1. In general, the battle is amazing (both part 1 and part 2). But tgere are some things I don’t understand.

    From the moment the shield goes down, nothing without ultra durability at least 2 should have survived for more than a minute (and that’s with modern day weaponry, let alone whatever the Union has that folds space and stuff like that. So my question is: how is Easter still alive? She can be killed by a sniper gun, which means she should have been killed already by the caroet bombing before.

    1. Easter got jostled around a bunch by explosions and shrapnel, but she had Ultra Toughness one. It would have taken a direct hit with a folded space projector (or several at once, which is what ultimately got her) to take her down. The Pantheon was fortunate enough that nobody targeted her until she revealed her gift.

      1. Ok, that makes sense. I still think that the Union would be able to saturate the center of the Pantheon formation with folded space projection, folded space bombs, or antimatter bombs, but maybe I’m underestimating the firing rate of the folded space projectors.

        But making Easter ultra tough 1 (a high one, since low ones like Indulger can be hurt by bullets) makes it more believeable that she might have survived.

      2. Also, it’s a shame that the Union no longer controls the SOV because I bet that after the shield is down a strike from the SOV’s “restricted payload” (after the Union forces had temporarily retreated) would have caused way over 50% casualties with minimal loss of Union troops. Maybe even Vampire? We don’t know how tough she is, only that even Zeus is more or less scared of her and she probably can kill anything that moves.

        OTOH, the best weapons against the Host would be the Fourth Fist with an intact link so that Condemner could feed on the thousands of Ultras (and growing strong enough to kill anything there), while Indulger disrupted the ground so that Ultras with forms could not gain a strong footing.

  2. Hello, long time no post. I’m really enjoying the battle, and I have a style nitpick:

    > If they withdrew the enemy would recover all of their losses, this ‘Easter’ unmaking the effect of their assault in the span of a few hours. But if they did not withdraw they would fall.

    This is weird to me b/c “Easter” wasn’t mentioned before this sentence. Was Vampire supposed to mention her earlier?

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