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Jennifer Chase and her colleagues stood to attention as their squad leader, Captain William Jarvis - a grizzled veteran in the Khazan Mobile Police - paced up and down, inspecting his squad.
"Listen up, boys and girls... you've probably heard me say this quite a few times already as we've been through training exercises of this nature before, but I cannot stress on how important this is... that this is a high-level training exercise that is designed with realism in mind, to simulate actual mobile police operations. Keep in mind that by keeping in touch with the realistic combat feel, we will all be using live ammunition, and similarly, all energy weapons will also be on full power, and that is also the case for our "enemy". You've probably heard me say this too, not that I want to sound like a prophet of doom - but the risk of serious injury or even death is a very real one, so I expect every single one of you to take this exercise seriously. That means you are to keep your guard up at all times during the exercise, obey all orders, work as a team, and most importantly of all - no showing-off or playing superhero," the captain seemed to give Jennifer the "and that means you" look upon the mention of "playing superhero".
"Alright, without further ado, all units to your MARS!" The captain made a sweeping action with his right arm.
"Yes sir!" Jennifer replied in sync with the rest of the squad as each individual officer made a run for their MARS-550 units.
"Ready for action, Officer Chase?" Jennifer's MARS asked as the officer approached.
The latest off KOMBG's production lines, the MARS are named so due to them being a hybrid between power armour and mecha - far larger than power armour and the operator pilots the machine from behind a console like a mecha, yet it is super-lightweight compared to true mecha. Of course, they are veritable one-mech armies, brimming with vulcan guns, lasers, plasma cannons, micromissiles, rail guns, smart rockets... whatever piece of high-tech weaponry the brilliant (and some say sick and twisted due to their apparent obssession with developing the biggest, meanest and most badass weaponry in the multiverse) minds of the research staff at Kill-O-Matic can devise.
"Ready as can be, Metalneck," Jennifer replied. "Status, Metalneck?"
"Reactor output at optimal levels... structural integrity at one hundred percent... Weapons systems fully-loaded and functioning."
"Cool. That's what I liked to hear... time to sock it to 'em."
The various controls lit up as Jennifer Chase entered and strapped herself into the seat. Another hiss was heard as the chest armour closed up, covering the pilot compartment.
"Visuals on, Metalneck," Jennifer commanded.
"Much obliged, officer Chase," Metalneck replied as the master display console flickered and came online. From within the cockpit of her MARS-550, Jennifer was able to see what Metalneck's optical receptors picked up. Various holographic readout windows opened up, superimposing themselves on the corners of the display screen.
"Everybody ready?" Captain Jarvis asked, a window bearing a video feed of him inside his MARS-550 appeared on the main display.
"Officer Chase ready, sir!" Jennifer Chase replied.
"Okay, here's our mission scenario - an indeterminable number of The Fallen have seized control of a KOMBG manufacturing facility. They are mostly piloting Dollarcorp-manufactured Spectre mechs armed with standard Dollarcorp military hardware - and knowing stuff made by Dollarcorp, that means approach with caution. The objectives of this mission to liberate the facility by neutralizing all hostiles and capturing their ringleader - detailed information on whom is not known at the moment."
"Our strategy is to divide the squad into three teams... a diversion, an assault team and a sniper team. I want Jennifer and Rupert to form the diversion - approach them from their left and right flanks respectively to divide up their attention. Bruce, Satoshi, Kate, Gabriel, Christie and I will make a direct assault on the enemy. The remaining four of you will position yourself at the corners of the facility to provide cover fire for the rest of us. You read?"
"Yes sir!" Jennifer replied.
"Much obliged, officer Chase," Metalneck replied. "Ion thrusters engaged."
A soft but high-pitched whine could be heard as the MARS's ion propulsion system fired up, taking the behemoth airborne.
Jennifer Chase chose to stay low while at a long distance, zipping in between the fake city buildings.
"Approaching enemy position," Metalneck announced.
"Good, Metalneck, climb."
"Much obliged, officer Chase," the MARS replied as it gained altitude. As anticipated, the enemy soon caught sight of the approaching KPD mechs. Although before they could react, one was quickly incapacitated by a barrage of plasma fire from Rupert's MARS-550, a signal for the rest of the squad to act.
"Metalneck, hit them hard!"
"You got it, officer Chase!" Metalneck replied as it dived down, its "Dragonator" plasma rifle ready and its shoulder armour opening up to reveal a pair of missile launchers.
On the master visual display console, two green targeting sights appeared over two enemy mechs, turning red as they signal target acquisition. "Target designated, attacking."
Two quick bursts from Metalneck's plasma rifle destroyed the first enemy mech, but the second moved out of the line of fire at the last instant, resulting in only an arm blasted off - damaged, but still functional and capable of retaliation. Although it would not be alone for long - as it was soon joined by another half-dozen spectres.
"Well, that didn't turn out too well, did it?" Jennifer asked as the enemy mechs took to the air. A clanging sound made by a hail of hypervelocity rounds ricocheting off Metalneck's Komium armour answered her question. "Time to make a break for it, Metalneck - we've done just what was required - we'll try to lead them on a wild goose chase so that the sniper team can pick them off."
"Quick thinking there, officer Chase - but first, a parting gift for them!"
Metalneck's targeting systems locked onto the nearest enemy mech before firing a Lancer missile. The enemy were unphased by the loss of one of their own as the missile hit home, blowing the mech apart. Unmoved, the Spectres gave chase, firing their own weapons at the MARS-550.
"Sure thing, officer Chase," the MARS replied as another display window superimposed itself over the master display.
"Now that's not good..." Jennifer remarked as she noted the display of the onboard Friend or Foe Idenitification system - five red triangles chasing after one blue triangle; they were outnumbered five to one. "...But I like it when you stack the odds against me!"
"Missile lock alert!" Metalneck drew Jennifer's attention to a pulsing yellow dot that was rapidly approaching their position, judging on how fast it was closing the distance between them, it was no doubt an enemy missile being fired at them. "Darn!" Jennifer braced herself for the impending hit, but the missile never hit - blown out of the air by a friendly shot. Jennifer soon noted another blue triangle appearing on the corner of the radar's display window.
"Be careful!" a video display window of her colleague, Andy Sheen, one of the members of the sniper team opened over the master display before promptly closing. One of the enemy mechs turned its attention from the pursuit of Jennifer Chase and Metalneck in order to determine the position of whoever shot down the missile, but was promptly sheared in half by a high-powered positron bolt.
"Bullseye!" Andy's voice came over the radio, deciding not to send a video feed over so as not to obscure Jennifer's sight on the master display. Another enemy mech - the one-armed one thanks to Metalneck's earlier shot - tried to avoid a second shot from the positron rifle wielded by Andy's MARS-550, but its reaction came a split second too late - while it succeeded in avoiding a direct hit, the positron bolt nailed it in its thrusters, rendering them non-functional and sending the mech spiralling out of control to crash onto the streets below.
"Nice shooting!" Jennifer complimented. The enemy now seemed to be at a loss on whether to pursue Metalneck, or Andy's MARS-550. Seizing the opportunity, Metalneck locked on to two enemy mechs and disabled them with a salvo of Lancer missiles and a rapid-fire burst from its plasma rifle. The third, and last remaining mech got its head blasted off by a well-aimed positron bolt from Andy Sheen, knocking it out of commission.
"We rock, Metalneck!" Jennifer declared jubilantly.
"Agreed there... but I don't think our mission is over yet. The captain mentions there is a leader-" before Metalneck could finish, a plasma blast nailed it from the left flank.
"Damage alert!" the pilot compartment shuddered violently as warning lights flashed.
"Officer Chase, you okay in there?" Metalneck asked as the warning lights died down.
"Pretty much so... if anything's hurt, only my pride," Jennifer replied. However, they barely had time to catch their breath before a second enemy onslaught began, this time from a hail of hypervelocity projectiles.
"Is that the enemy's leader?" Jennifer Chase enquired on a large red triangle that was quickly closing in on them.
"Or just to put it in short... a bigger pain in the ass," Jennifer Chase added as a few autocannon rounds ricocheted off Metalneck's armour plating.
"Yes, indeed. We've got to throw off that dog-tail he has on us, pronto. It's no secret that the Banshee has superior reaction speed compared to the MARS-550, so unless we can somehow turn the tables by getting into a more advantageous position, we are in deep trouble."
"Leave it to me, Metalneck. Let me take control from here," Jennifer Chase commanded as she cracked her knuckles, as often, drawing a morbid satisfaction from hearing the "crack-crack" sounds they made.
"Much obliged, officer Chase," Metalneck responded. "Functions transferred to pilot."
"Alright, it's all old-school from here!" Jennifer chorused as she took hold of the control handlebars and made a roll to the right to avoid an incoming missile. As anticipated, the missile, being a smart missile, made a sharp midair turn upon missing its target, this time coming straight from the front.
"Not too tough now!" Jennifer fired Metalneck's plasma rifle, blowing the missile to bits, while making a rapid succession of dips and climbs and zig-zagging to avoid bursts of autocannon fire and plasma blasts. Powering forward at full speed, Jennifer Chase brought her MARS towards a high-rise office building, seemingly on a collision course.
"Officer Chase, what are you thinking? If you continue forward at this speed, a head-on impact with the building is inevitable."
"Doing what you'd normally be incapable of - taking a gamble... playing the odds," Jennifer replied as a smile curled on her lips.
"Chicken games, I see..." Metalneck replied.
"And... NOW!" Jennifer Chase shouted as she made a sharp turn upwards, bringing the MARS higher airborne, narrowly avoiding a crash as blood rushed upwards into her head under the tremendous G. The enemy had not anticipated the move as it blundered straight into - and through - the building, smashing through meters upon meters of glass, steel and concrete.
"Right where I wanted you to be!" Jennifer declared triumphantly as she emerged from behind the enemy mech and engaged Metalneck's C-2 "Avenger" miniguns. Two pairs of six-barreled poly-alloy miniguns emerged from their housing units on Metalneck's forearm, performing their whirling death dance, raining thousands of armour-piercing rounds at astronomical velocities, tearing into their target like a pack of wolves on a deer.
The battered Banshee spun out of control, streams of liquid leaking from its shredded hydraulics like blood oozing from a wound, before crashing heavily on the tarmac below.
"Nice going, officer Chase," Metalneck complimented. "Now I see why, in spite of our sentience, the guys at KOMBG still saw it necessary for the MARS-550's to have a human pilot."
"Congratulations, everyone," Captain Jarvis' video feed came over the master display. "Our mission objectives have been fulfilled - and I must say all of you performed exceptionally well this time. I want everyone in the squad to gather back at the KOMBG manufacturing facility for a mission debrief."
Jennifer Chase smiled as she leaned back in her seat. Another long day comes to a close, and for that she was glad. "Come on Metalneck, we're heading home."