The Master of Battle

Submitted into Contest #180 in response to: Write a story that hinges on the outcome of a coin flip.... view prompt

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Contemporary Science Fiction Adventure

Ben stared intently at his right hand, twiddling the coin between his sweaty fingers. Across the table, Riley had his full attention on Ben.

This was the deciding moment, the climax of two hours of foiled stratagems and devious maneuvers. For the afternoon, Ben had not just been Ben, and Riley had not just been Riley.

Ben was High Commodore Ben of the 27th Expeditionary Corps, with direct orders from Earth Command to secure a foothold on Procrolia III by any means necessary. Riley was Arch Warseer Riley of the Hurzot Ascendancy, who had been blessed by the Enclave of Elders to colonize the same planet.

War was inevitable, and soon the two generals had arrayed their forces on their respective table edges, two hosts of plastic set against one another. 

It did not take long for the battle to begin. Ben’s riflemen advanced upon Riley’s warriors, under the cover of an explosive barrage courtesy of his Gorgon Artillery. Riley would not be outdone, and blasted at Ben’s troops with irradiated beams fired from his Obelisks.

Every roll of the dice seemed to spell doom and destruction. Scores of troops on both sides were blasted to bits by the furious exchange, and those who survived found themselves in a desperate firefight to control the center.

The riflemen took cover amongst the flora, and let loose bursts of precision automatic fire. The Hurzot warriors, confident in their armor, eschewed shelter and made with speed towards the humans, firing their plasglaives as they approached. Many fell as they charged, but a lucky initiative roll on Riley’s part saw his warriors make contact. In the swirl of melee, they proved to be the superior combatants, and gored their way through Ben’s lines. 

Ben was prepared for this setback, however, knowing all too well the strengths of his foe. His infantry were backed by imposing Cerberus Raiders, swift tracked vehicles armed with oversized flamethrowers. What Riley did not expect was for them to unleash their incendiary fury into the scuffle. Ben’s own troops would be caught in the inferno, but to him it was a necessary loss to break Riley’s center. The sacrifice of his men would be honored in the coming empire.

Meanwhile, on the flanks and in the skies, a mechanized struggle was in full swing. Raptor-7 aces contested the airspace with Cloudskimmer drivers, and Stonewall-Pattern Tanks rode against swarms of Hurzot Mechaphracts. The Stonewall Tank was the pinnacle of human engineering; bearing multiple machine guns and a massive main cannon, and covered in layers of nanosteel, it was both an unstoppable force and an immovable object. The Mechaphracts were fast and hard to hit, but they were hopelessly outgunned with their proton lances. They could only try and disable the tanks’ systems while getting eviscerated. 

Above, though, things were in the Warseer’s favor. The Cloudskimmers were built with laser-accurate weapon systems, and dropped the sluggish Raptors while avoiding their missiles and ack-ack fire from the AA batteries on the ground. Once Ben’s squadrons had been grounded, with few casualties of their own, Riley was free to make his power play.

The forces of mankind watched in horror as the Cloudskimmers began to dock with one another, forming giant, floating weapon emplacements known as Thunderslingers. Losing their mobility, they instead combined their weapons into one, massive bombardment system. Death rained from above as pillars of pure energy crashed into the Stonewalls, turning their impenetrable hulls into charred crisps. Ben desperately focused fire with his AA guns, but the shields of a Thunderslinger were hard to breach. By the time he had cleared the skies, his armor formations were decimated.

Now, the Mecaphracts were free to flank the Commodore’s army. They sped to and fro, disabling the Gorgons and running down his reserve troops. The situation was rapidly becoming dire. With every passing turn, the 27th grew thinner, his surviving forces mounting a tough but ultimately doomed last stand. 

But Ben had one trick up his sleeve. When building his army, he had opted to take a secret ability: Orbital Drop, which would allow him to place some troops in drop pods. At the start of any of his turns, he could activate Orbital Drop on a point, and with a flip of a special coin, these pods would blast through the atmosphere and land on the battlefield, allowing him to deploy the troops within anytime, anywhere. 

The catch was, if the coin landed on tails, the pods would suffer catastrophic failure entering the atmosphere, and the men inside would be torn apart, rendering them null. 

So the fate of the battle had come down to this coin flip. Riley’s feet shuffled amongst the empty chip bags and soda cans that had grown steadily on the floor. Now the devices of his enemy were laid before him, and the gravity of the moment apparent. 

The tension was palpable. Closing his eyes and drawing one more breath, Ben flipped the coin into the rolling tray, hearing it thud into the plastic. He needed not look at the result; an exasperated yell from across the table revealed the outcome. It was heads.

A sly smile crept onto Ben’s face, and he reached into his backpack to withdraw the pods. He had targeted them amongst the Obelisks, a perfect placement. 

As the Hurzot tightened the noose on the few remaining humans, they heard a rumble in the sky. They stopped in their tracks, and glanced above. Streaks of bright fire, like comets, barreled towards the planet’s surface at breakneck speed. 

A cacophony of ground-shattering impacts pounded the Hurzot rear line as the pods fell. Some crashed into the Obelisks, pulverizing the war machines and their crew. But this was not what would carry the day for the 27th; the contents of the pod would. As their doors popped open, hulking metal figures emerged. It was the Paladins. Genetically modified supersoldiers in power armor, the Paladins were humanity’s finest. They were the harbingers of death every rifleman could only dream of being, and every foe of mankind dreaded meeting. 

Bearing the firepower of a machine gun nest with the mobility of a cheetah, the Paladins strode against the Hurzot encirclement. The weary human defenders cheered and redoubled their fight as their salvation neared, while the Hurzot forces quailed at their loss of fortune. Metaphacts dropped like flies in the hail of high caliber fire, and soon the Hurzot army was in full rout, decimated. Humanity had won the day, and the soil of Procrolia III was claimed in the name of Earth.

“That rule is so overpowered dude,” Riley said sullenly as he picked up his figurines and dice. Ben just smiled smugly as he packed, content in his victory. It was another glorious triumph for the brave men of the 27th!

January 13, 2023 22:14

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