"A fearful battle render'd"
A double explosion shattered the tense silence of the sickly yellow dawn. The first blast of all-out war. Lestrade waited, counting. It would take Marquardson and Morstan 13.2 seconds to turn their crafts, site their next pair of targets, and fire again.
Time ticked past. Too long, he thought. Too fucking long. He heard the plasma cannon fire, but only weak explosions followed.
A hail from the flyers confirmed the good and the bad.
"Silverfox, Sable One. Primary targets destroyed. Encountering resistance at secondary targets. Initiating Plan Beta."
"Sable One, Silverfox. Understood. Plan Beta confirmed. Do you have eyes on Tiger Team?"
"Confirmed. They're in the clear. Rendezvousing in 20 seconds."
"Acknowledged. Silverfox out." Lestrade opened full comms. "All commands, this is Silverfox. Conundrum communications and manufacture facilities destroyed. Rep command centre and storage depot still standing. Plan Beta confirm."
A litany of confirmations came in from each unit. Hot on their heels, Morstan's voice broke through the comms.
"Silverfox, Agra. Come in."
"Go ahead, Agra."
"Sir, Tiger Team in position. Be advised, rep storage is open and emptying."
Satan's cock! "Acknowledged. Do what you can up there. We'll handle the rest."
"Yes, sir. Agra out."
The Conundrum's communications systems were kaput, allowing his forces free comms once more, but the failsafe Oracle had warned him about had activated quicker than anticipated. The Nucleus' shields were up, protecting the central core. The reps were activated and on the move. Without comms, they were deaf and mute, unable to receive updated orders. That left them with the one overriding command hardwired into their synthetic brains: annihilate humanity.
Tiger and Panther Teams would focus on the depot and the Nucleus. It was up to him and the groundlings to take out the enemy down here.
He opened full comms again. "All commands, Silverfox. Ground troops are marching. Prepare to engage the enemy on my command."
There followed another quick round of confirmations. The scream of flyer engines manoeuvring through the atmosphere underscored every exchange. Explosions reached his ears and he knew Morstan and Marquardson were doing their jobs. What he wouldn't give for more air support, but that was a luxury they'd not had in an exceptionally long time.
Dimmock jogged up to him, one hand resting on his holstered plasma blaster. "Field Commander!"
"Phalanx of reps approaching our position head on."
He nodded once sharply. "The game's afoot, then. Just like Oracle predicted. No strategy. They're relying on fire power and numbers to overwhelm us."
"Looks that way, sir."
"Estimated time to intercept range?"
"At current rep speed, 18 minutes."
Lestrade switched to his own team's assigned frequency and thumbed open a comm line. "Toast, La Bohème, Silverfox. Do you copy?"
Donovan acknowledged first and Adler immediately after. "Go ahead, Commander," Donovan then replied for them both.
"Reps moving in as anticipated, ETI just under 18. Take your teams round to flank and notify me when you're in position."
"Acknowledged. Toast out."
"Understood. La Bohème out."
Lestrade looked at Dimmock, who stood waiting for his own orders. In another situation, the two men were equal in rank. But here and now, the Tops had designated Lestrade as Field Commander. He was in charge of every single human life on Earth and above it.
He fucking hated the Tops.
"Is my team mustered?"
"Join them. We'll move only once we have word that Adler and Donovan's teams are in place." The same scenario would be playing out under each other Commander. The units circled the Nucleus like points on a clock. If only he had twelve units rather than merely six. Another luxury long lost.
"Yes, sir." Dimmock turned and jogged back towards the waiting troops.
Lestrade made one last call. "Doc, Silverfox."
"I trust you're up to date."
"I've been monitoring all communications since they opened up, yes," Watson confirmed. "Once more unto the breech, then, is it?"
"Yes, but I'll be damned if we close up any walls with English dead. It'll be reps that fall hardest."
"I'm glad to hear it."
"You'll be ready?"
"Count on it."
"I know I can. We'll do what we can on our end to keep you and the rest of the med-squads from getting too busy."
"We'd appreciate that, thanks."
"You, too. Silverfox out."
With no more delay, Lestrade set out to join his troops. He set his jaw, straightened his shoulders, and quoted softly. "Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'"
The passionate plea was inadequate despite its rousing origins. The odds here were more like Agincourt than Harfleur. "We are enough to do our species loss; and if to live, the fewer troops the greater share of honour," he adapted freely. "Honour? Fuck honour." He'd give his left nut for twice as many soldiers, twice as much fire power. Hell, he'd give them both to end this war right now without another human casualty.
He reached Dimmock who was surveying the distance through a pair of binoculars.
"They're closing on our position. ETI 14."
Dimmock handed over the specs and Lestrade trained them on the approaching enemy. A wall of reps at least ten rows deep marched toward them. There was no point moving to intercept them sooner. They would not tire, while his troops were subject to fatigue and the toxic air. Better to stay put and let the reps come to them.
"Silverfox, La Bohème."
He lowered the binoculars and handed them back to Dimmock. "Go ahead."
"We're in position, sir."
It was less than a minute before he received the same word from Donovan.
One by one, the rest of the units reported in.
In position. Ready to move. Awaiting your command.
"ETI two minutes," Dimmock announced.
Lestrade took a breath and let it out. "We few, we happy few."
"ETI 60 seconds."
"We band of brothers."
"ETI 30 seconds."
Lestrade opened full comms. "On my command."
Dimmock counted down to the moment the reps were in weapons range. "Twenty... Ten... Five, four, three, two--"
The air immediately filled with the clamour of blaster fire. Lestrade advanced with his team, directing the charge.
Plasma blasts shot through the air, wrapping fiery tendrils around the oncoming reps.
"Aim for their heads!"
Even as they returned fire, reps exploded and fell, shooting sparks and splattering purple fluid.
"Mind the synthblood!" He shouted reminders that oughtn't to be needed. They'd all been briefed.
His comm unit crackled. "Silverfox, Agra!"
"Bit busy here! Make it brief!"
"Rep depot destroyed. Joining Panther Team at the Nucleus."
"Good news at last." He fired three quick blasts and was rewarded with three dead reps. More marched onward over the fallen bodies. Shame they didn't find their blood as slippery as his troops did. "Acknowledged! Go!"
"Yes, sir. Agra out!"
He ducked a shot, taking shelter behind a stone covered in ochre-coloured moss. His breathing felt laboured already. How long had they been fighting? The exertion was causing the atmosphere to get to him. That meant it would be affecting others, too. Time for filter masks. They provided only limited and short-term relief. With a hefty dose of luck, they'd last long enough for his army to win this bloody battle.
Over open comms, he ordered masks deployed, and then immediately put on his own. Those capable whom he could see did the same. He rolled onto his belly beyond the rock and laid down cover fire while more slingers pulled on their masks around him.
An enormous explosion ruptured the sky, sending the wave of a sonic boom across the battlefield, temporarily deafening him. He looked up--and that was his mistake. An errant blast from a falling rep struck him in the shoulder. Lestrade screamed even as a calm part of his mind noted that they'd upped the power output of their weapons.
He rolled onto his back clutching his wounded arm to his side. He daren't touch the wound itself; he'd only make it worse. Dimmock's masked face hove into view and out again. Lestrade heard his muffled voice, hailing Doc, calling for immediate med-evac.
It wasn't worth it, Lestrade thought as the world went grey. It would come too late.
A/N: Title from Shakespeare's Henry V, Act I, Scene 1