A'armo'o waited until the back deck lowered from his tank before trotting out. He took off his helmet as his hooves thudded against the dirt and brown grass, blinking his six eyes as he brought everything into focus.
Terrans were running everywhere. Before his driver could even finish shutting down the fusion reactor there were a half dozen Terrans wearing loading frames with built in tools pulling the damaged armor from his tank.
One Terran, a big human with a patch over one of his two eyes, stopped in front of A'armo'o.
"Staff Sergeant Casey, Terran Army, 3rd COSCOM, 144th Ordnance Company," the human said, introducing himself, to A'armo'o, quickly and succinctly. "My men are going check your tank out, double-check your plasma shells, your compression chamber, the alignment of your magnetic rails," he said. He turned and pointed at the hoverfan skirts. "We'll check your plenum chambers real quick, see if its something my boys can spot repair or if we need 3rd Shop over here."
"Very good, human," A'armo'o said, slightly startled at the way the Terran had not even bothered trying to polish his hind hooves and just jumped into the important stuff.
"Your computers are really last-gen. We can probably get a warboi into your tank, but it'll be tight. I can have a warboi case loaded in and wired up if you can spare, oh," the Terran stared off into the distance and A'armo'o knew he was consulting his datalink.
A'armo'o expected computer hardware to take a month or two, maybe even six, if it could be done at all.
"Three hours per tank. Two if I get the greenies from 19th Electronic Warfare Maintenance over here," the Terran said. "Little guys are wizards with the tech. Saved my ass."
"You have eighteen hours to do what must be done to my men's tanks," A'armo'o said, emulating Trucker's attitude and tones.
The Terran male turned to his men that were working on A'armo'o's tank.
"You heard the man! Eighteen hours! I want all his tanks racked, packed, stacked in six!" he yelled. "Dominguez, get your footpads in gear!" he yelled at one of the massive insectiod soldiers.
A'armo'o turned and stepped back, surprised to see one of the big black Terran warborgs.
"General Trucker's compliments, sir," the warborg growled, making a 'follow' motion. "He's at the Theater Tactical Operations Command."
"Very well, Terran," A'armo'o said.
The warborg led him on a weaving course through the refit area, letting A'armo'o see that his men and his vehicles were getting priority (at least to A'armo'o's eyes) on refit and repair. His wounded were being treated, his men being fed, and A'armo'o saw a tent put up and makeshift sleeping slings being set up. He saw two Terrans helping an exhausted Lanaktallan to a sleeping sling, telling the Lanaktallan that things would be better after some sleep.
What boggled his mind was that eight hours ago he had met with Trucker and the humans acted as if they had benefited from weeks of relaxation. There was a group of Terran soldiers jogging in perfect formation, packs on their backs, weapons held in their hands, backs straight. The lead one had a pole with a flag of a Terran 8 with an arrow through it on it that he held up into the air.
"Eight UP!" a Terran jogging beside the formation yelled.
"PUT 'EM DOWN!" the Terrans roared.
A'armo'o managed to not flinch or flee.
"That was out of respect for your rank, sir," the warborg growled after they had gone by.
"They seem... eager," A'armo'o said.
The warborg made a grinding sound. "Nobody likes PT, sir. You're right though, sir, everyone's chomping at the bit to go slambang some awmer metal."
"Autonomous War Machine," the warborg said, pausing while a large wheeled vehicle moved by carrying a steam driven turbine engine. "Slamming clankers isn't like killing some poor bastard sent to die by his leaders. We'd rather smash metal than people."
"Oh," A'armo'o said softly.
"Great Most High," his datalink pinged.
"A'armo'o here," he answered.
"The Terrans are all insisting the engines on our tanks be replaced. They say the engines and fan mechanisms are all showing something called microfractures and resonance induced crystalline alignment," his Twelfth Most High, now his Second, said in outraged tones. "I told them that those engines had been reliable for test starting for over a million years."
"Are you a maintenance technician?" A'armo'o asked.
"Do we have any maintenance techs alive and here to work on the tanks?"
"THEN GET OUT OF THEIR WAY AND LET THEM WORK!" A'armo'o bellowed out. He cut the link and looked at the warborg. "My apologies. My second in command does not believe that our tanks need repair."
"They were in storage before the clankers arrived, correct?" the warborg asked.
"For almost ten million years. They are a reliable design," A'armo'o stated.
"Uh-huh. If you say so," the warborg said as they passed a Terran 'light armored fighting vehicle' that weighed nearly a hundred tons and had armor thicker than A'armo'o's heavy tank.
A'armo'o would have been offended as little as six days ago. He knew his heavy tank only qualified to the Terrans as a 'light armored hover vehicle' suitable only for scouting and fast attack raids. The Terran light armored fighting vehicle mounted a heavier cannon than A'armo'o's tank, which had a 90mm rapid fire tri-barrel plasma cannon that could put out twelve shots a minute. The 'light vehicle' by the Terrans had a rapid fire single barrel 60mm autocannon that put out up to two hundred rounds a minute. He's seen one of those light tanks shred a Precursor AWM that his tank could not face without at least five others through careful maneuvering that would leave at least three tanks dead. The Terran vehicle had killed the AWM one on one.
In less than ten seconds.
A week ago it would have grated on his nerves. Six months ago he had not understood how the Terrans just tore through the Lanaktallan forces like they were made of cheap plas.
Now he got it.
What made him slightly afraid was the way the Terrans hadn't even asked for his surrender, just landed, attacked the Precursors, and just maintained that the Lanaktallan forces who did not fire on them would not be fired upon.
It was an uneasy truce.
A'armo'o knew that he was facing punishment for refusing to attack Terran forces while they were engaged with the Precursors.
But he wasn't going to throw away the lives of his men to follow the orders of the System Most High who was hiding in a bunker.
The Theater Tactical Operations Command was in a metal cargo box buried under dirt and protective plates. Cables ran out of the box, out of holes cut with a torch, and vanished into pipes that were buried in the dirt.
"I'll be out here, sir," the warborg growled.
"Thank you," A'armo'o said. He went through the airlock door and into the TTOC, preparing for the debate he knew would be taking place about the best way to destroy the Precursor machines with the least amount of dedicated resources.
Instead there were nearly a dozen beings, Six Terrans, two of the large insects, two Telkan, and two large gray skinned saurians, all in the adapative camouflage, all looking at a holotank. Around them were consoles where troops were passing on messages or handling incoming messages, as well as putting data up on large dataslates.
"Have Nineteenth Armor rotate out with Fifteenth Armor. The Precursors are breaking contact, we'll send in 11th Air Cavalry Regiment to rip them up while they retreat. Get those boys in there with the brrrt in the dirt," A large insect was saying. "Once Fifteenth is in position, have them do a lockhorn. Pinch them from the sides, bunch them up, and slam up through the middle."
"Yes, sir," one of the saurains said. A'armo'o was surprised that the voice from the big muscular bipedal lizard sounded female.
"Trucker, how long till 3rd Armor is field capable?" the insect asked, taking out what A'armo'o had learned was a cigarette and lighting it. He puffed smoke out of his legs.
"My men need sleep. Say, fifteen hours?" Trucker said, lifting up a bottle so he could spit into it.
"You have eighteen," the insect said. He turned to A'armo'o. "Ah, Great Most High of Armor A'armo'o, kind of you to join us."
"Thank you, Confederate," A'armo'o said, still unsure of the Terran rank system.
"Your men are exhausted and in need of rest," the big insect said, puffing smoke out his legs. "That is not a criticism of your men's bravery. You fought on despite terrible casualties, refusing to give up because the civilians were behind you. That is admirable."
For some reason, having the massive insect praise his decision that was being criticized by his own people, made A'armo'o feel much better.
"The problem, Great Most High, is one that cannot be sugar coated," the insect said. He huffed smoke. "I came up blue legged, so perhaps have a black-leg like Trucker tell you will be more palatable."
"Yes?" A'armo'o said, turning to the big human.
Trucker spit into the bottle and shook his head. "Thanks, General Ko'Draka."
"No charge," the insect said, then turned back to the others. "We've got the Precursors AWM's contained for now, but those big boys on the ground are pumping out reinforcements like a runaway Clone Worlds Nu-U Shop."
Trucker moved over to A'armo'o. "No offense, Great Most High, but your tanks all need refit at the least. Badly need refit," he moved over to a smaller holotank and made a motion.
The schematic wireframe for his tanks appeared in the holotank.
"Your tanks were in storage for too long," Trucker said. "You started them every couple thousand years, but that's not good enough. You also just fired them up and drove the ones that worked into combat."
A'armo'o nodded. "We had little warning."
"I want to tell you that that's no excuse," Trucker sighed. "Terrans learned that hard lesson several times."
"What is the problem? Directly inform me forward," A'armo'o said, trying out human slang.
"Tell you straight?" Trucker asked.
"Yes," A'armo'o said, feeling proud of himself.
Trucker sighed. "All right. Your tanks are shit."
A'armo'o tamped down his outrage.
"Your fans have bad blade angles, your fan shafts are too thin and made of substandard material. Your armor is too thin, the laminate layering is crap to the point you have micro-bubbles," Trucker kept highlighting every part. "Your engines already have metal fatigue, vibration crystalization of your low grade battlesteel. Your weapons are suffering already and your ammunition is 20% inert."
A'armo'o looked at the wireframe. He could see little images circling each line that came from a red part. He went to point at one, touching it, and the tiny picture expanded to show an image of one of his tank's armor at high magnification.
He could see
the striation, see the tiny bubbles between two layers of the laminate as well as cracks.
His implant translated the Terran writing.
Vibration induced metal fatigue cracking. Age related bubbling. Poor ablation quality. Superconductor breakdown in the thermal protection layer. Radiation seepage through the protective layer.
Recommendation: Total armor replacement.
He touched the window of the main plasma cannon.
Damaged compression chamber, damaged loader, damaged feeder, damaged battle rotation mechanism, heat pitting on the interior of the barrels.
Recommendation: Total replacement.
He went through the notes silently, watching as more notes appeared. Inadequate computer systems. Inadequate electronic warfare systems. Substandard battlescreen projectors. Missing redundant control systems.
He stared at the bottom.
ESTIMATED TIME TO REFIT: 9 Hours
A'armo'o looked up at Trucker. "I am ashamed."
"You held them for days with those tanks, that equipment. You have nothing to be ashamed of," Trucker said, shrugging and spitting into the bottle. "You lost over two-thirds of your forces, but you're facing clankers, and they don't pay attention to casualties and press for victory."
"What do you suggest, human Trucker?" A'armo'o asked.
Trucker smiled but A'armo'o felt too tired to flinch away. "How about we tell the mechanics to open the TC hatch and replace everything else?"
It took A'armo'o a moment to parse what the burly human meant.
"That is amusing," A'armo'o stated. "A nice way to say my tanks must be replaced."
"I've had tanks replaced. Cry Little Sister
out there was replaced a year ago after we took a barrel bull hit," Trucker shrugged. "Had a tank completely blown out from under me back during the Mar-gite War. There's no shame if you aren't wasting the lives."
A'armo'o shuddered. "Over half the population is dead."
"Almost half the population is alive thanks to your men," Trucker countered. He rubbed his face, his palm making a rasping sound against the bristles on his chin. "You took to the field with poor training, poor equipment, little more than a willingness to do what had to be done. Not many other species I've met could do better."
"Oh," A'armo'o could sense the truth in the human's words. He decided to change the subject, as praise from the huge lemur disturbed him. "Do you not worry about refitting my vehicles and arming my men?"
Trucker shrugged. "A little. I worry it might give your men delusions of grandeur and think you can take on a Matthias Main Battle Tank or a Treana'ad M'Tolk Assault Armored Vehicle. No offense, but infantry can pop your tanks like bubbles. I'm not worried about during the fight, the fight's going to be nasty. I worry about afterwards."
A'armo'o nodded. "I understand. I have seen your tanks and realize that you could just crush us beneath your treads."
"But I don't want to," Trucker said, then spit into his bottle.
"My people are at war with yours," A'armo'o broached the subject a little more bluntly than he had intended to.
"And the Precursors don't care. They'll happily kill us both and it looks like we've got Type-III ones coming in soon," Trucker said. He looked over at the big insect. "General, I'm going to go outside with A'armo'o, get some tanker time to talk to him."
"If I need you I will have my man ping you," the large insect in charge said. He turned back to one of the gray skinned reptiles. "I realize that you are no Tik-Tak, but so far you have performed admirably."
"Thank you, General," the reptile answered as Trucker and A'armo'o left the half-buried cargo container. When he got outside Trucker heaved a sigh of relief.
"The TOC always makes me feel claustrophobic," he chuckled.
A'armo'o frowned. "But you are a tanker."
"Yeah, weird, huh?" Trucker grinned, spitting on the ground. He looked at A'armo'o. "I've seen what beings like your men can do with proper equipment, with leadership and a warplan that doesn't just waste you in unsupported frontal attacks. I've seen your bravery. General Ekret and Major Na'atrek are two men I want
to have by my side in a fight."
"I had thought Old Iron Feathers was dead," A'armo'o said. "I worked with him a long time ago. Fast attack air mobile power armor if I recall."
Trucker nodded. "He and his remaining men do SAR now. Saved me after the Second Battle of Telkan."
"And Ekret? He was an Armor Most High, correct? Much like myself," A'armo'o said.
Trucker nodded. "He's in charge of First Recon Division. Brave man, he and his men are skilled."
"He took part in the battles on Telkan?" A'armo'o asked.
Trucker nodded, spitting tobacco juice on the ground. "Yup. It got bad during the second battle, but Ekret and his men fought the whole time. Those recon tanks made all the difference."
"Are they both here?" A'armo'o asked.
Trucker nodded. "Ekret and I usually work hand in hand. I'm more of a face to face slambang, he's a slasher. As for Iron Feathers, well, he's with 13th Evac Hospital and I try to avoid him if you know what I mean."
A'armo'o found himself chuckling at that.
"We've got some time. The General says eighteen hours he means eighteen hours. Get some food in you, get some rest, and we'll have ourselves a bit of a klikitik so we can get you and your officers up top speed."
"Klikitik?" he asked, surprised his implant hadn't translated the word.
"Sorry. Treana'ad slang, means have us a quick informal meeting where everyone speaks their mind," Trucker said. "You know soldiers, we pick up slang from all over."
A'armo'o nodded, instructing his implant on the meaning of the word.
"Um, listen, we found out there's a problem with your troop's normal rations," Trucker said.
"The drugs?" A'armo'o asked.
Trucker nodded. "Your own government is drugging you guys pretty hard. How long have you known?:
"Two years ago, against the Prescursors, we were running mass reclaimation for rations, everyone got sick," A'armo'o said. He shook his head. "Unfortunately, we're all back on them again."
Trucker nodded. "Confederate medical is trying to come up with something to let you detox without going through nasty withdrawls. Right now, I'd advise leaving your men on it."
A'armo'o just nodded. Something about the big lemur calmed him. Even the sharp criticism of A'armo'o's tanks seemed more like a statement of fact than an insult.
"I know your doctrine," Trucker started.
"How?" A'armo'o asked.
Trucker tapped his implant as he spit. "Read your books. Like I was saying, I know your doctrine. You're supposed to get artillery, drone, and close air support, but tell me the reality."
A'armo'o felt his stomachs clench. "What is in the doctrine and what actually happens are two different things."
Trucker nodded. "Your grav-strikers are worse than useless. Under armored, no battle screens worthwhile for anything but clearing dust out, inadequate weaponry, they don't bring any brrt to the dirt."
"I don't understand. Brrt to the dirt?" A'armo'o said.
"Brrt. The sound a rapid fire autocannon makes? Slamming shells into the ground," Trucker clarified.
"Ah. What about you?" A'armo'o asked.
"I can trust the Brrt Boys to hit the enemy even if the enemy is inside my formation without hitting my men," Trucker said. "As for artillery, we're down to the centimeter even without smart munitions. The drone warfare guys, they run either master pod systems or throwaway swarms. Either way, I'm covered."
A'armo'o shook his head. "I can't imagine that. Artillery often hits our own lines, our drones are knocked down by Precursor electronic warfare, and our strikers rarely get into range to engage the enemy to support us. Even our missiles sometimes lock onto us."
"Yeah, we won't be using your guys for that then," Trucker said. He shook his head. "Let's get you to the mess hall, get some food in you, and after you get some sleep we'll meet back up and put our heads together, figure out how to lock you into the warplan."
A'armo'o nodded, looking over the field where his men had parked their vehicles. Refit and repair frames had gone up, fabrication systems were putting out parts for his tanks, and ammunition was being produced.
All while he'd been talking to Trucker.
He was suddenly glad that they were on the same side.
Then two words floated up out of his mind that made his blood run cold.