Linear: Racing Heart

Mecha combat roleplaying.
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Tenebrae
Terminus Developer
Terminus Developer
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Joined: 03/16/05

Linear: Racing Heart

Post by Tenebrae » 07/15/17

[Team] Lumina: Why is the gold in my head such straw in my hands?

After typing out this missive to her teammates Linear rested back on the stiff padding of the pilot seat. Before the small and slight girl was a domed array of OLED monitors which displayed what was happening on the exterior of the four-legged Spider mech. She was located in a windowless cockpit deep in the heart of the armored citadel. If she tilted her head slightly, the view rotated sharply enough that she could look behind her without craning her neck too much. Her message appeared there in a chat box connected to her teammates, even though she could have easily spoken to them directly over voice chat.

[Private] Sabbath: Everything alright?
She began to type “I think I’m dead. I was born dead. I don’t—”
She erased it.
[Private] To Sabbath: Just nerves. Good luck!

Linear tilted the hinged keyboard up towards the wall of the cockpit. A sharp click signified that it had been locked into place. She paused to wipe the cool sweat off of her brow with her hand, then smoothed her wavy hair back to fix her pony tail. Most people had to play the game with a virtual reality headset and a special controller. Even though she herself was an AI, she had a virtual body and that was still how she played most games. Her body was basically human, except for the pointed elf ears.

AC Online was a commercialized version of a government simulator, and as such she could enter it bodily from her special client. She had access to Racing Heart, a razor narrow-AI system which supposedly incorporated all of the player data collected so far. It would have given her quite an edge over the other players if she were any good at the game to begin with. It’s not that she was abjectly terrible, she wasn’t just world-class.

[Private] USN4322: Linear, how are things going?

That was one of the researchers at work analyzing the data from the AC Online project. The match was still a couple minutes from getting underway, so she flipped the keyboard back down and typed out a reply.

[Private] To USN4322: RH has been strange recently. I feel something like ennui. Melancholy. Bittersweet. Conflicted.
[Private] USN4322: Racing Heart was always going to be a difficult razor to use. We could terminate the test if you want.
[Private] To USN4322: Now? I can’t quit now. There are lots of people watching this.
[Private] USN4322: Everyone in the office is. It’s a bit of a party.
[Private] To USN4322: It’s just a game.

The expansive dome of the cockpit screen displayed the early-evening darkness of the virtual cityscape. She toggled the vision mode to FLIR and everything shifted to black and white. Not particularly liking the look of that either, she toggled it again to a synthetic vision system which passed the visual data from the cameras through a razor which processed the image based on various arbitrary criteria. She set it to brighten the image slightly in general and to apply outlines to all discrete objects whose color corresponded to the average of their heat signatures.

The voice channel opened up and it was simply Sabbath playing some heavy metal song. This was followed by some cross-talk on team chat and then a discussion about whose musical taste sucked the most. She kept her mouth shut.

“Check check.” her team leader Rahl said, which silenced the chatter on communications. The match was going to begin in about a minute. One by one the systems of her Spider began to come online, and the electrical hum inside the cockpit shifted in tone and intensity. First came the Pulse Drive, which powered the whole thing. The movement systems were next: each leg actuated as a test of the walking movement system, then the whole mecha smoothly rolled back and forth to test the rolling wheels mounted on the tips of the legs. Finally the weight of the mecha shifted as each of the four jumpjets mounted below the chassis was each tested individually. As each of these came to life, a HUD element was lit with green.

Then the passive systems like the net launcher missile countermeasures and the IR smoke generator. Her secondary weapon, the line taser, lit up. On a lucky shot the line taser could take control of an enemy. Then her main weapon, the heavy laser, and its secondary fire mode the electrolaser. Last to come online was the adaptive camouflage. She had a few moments to set the adaptive camouflage to a cool-blue digital pattern which matched the light levels perfectly. Her job in the Spider was as ranged support.

“RH, what do you want?” she wondered aloud. It was silly. Razors couldn’t think. But perhaps she couldn’t either. There was something she wasn’t seeing. She pulled the keyboard down and executed a script which linked her life to the life of her in-game avatar. This particular script locked her out until the match was over or a predetermined amount of time had elapsed. Almost immediately she got a text message.

[Private] USN4322: What are you doing??

She closed the chat window and felt the momentum of the mecha shift as she rolled it northward into the city. Her team consisted of four: Sabbath in his medium walker, leader Rahl in his heavy walker, Gavrilo in his medium walker, and her on the back line as light support. Sabbath rounded the corner in front of her and began to advance down the main avenue of the city. Rahl and Gavrilo were a street over to the east, progressing in the same direction.

“Gavrilo go east another street. Lumina to me. Sabbath continue forward.” Rahl said. Lumina rolled the mecha down the next street and took up a position behind Rahl. Gavrilo rolled to the east so that they were now spread out across three parallel streets and advancing in an arrow. A missile popped up over the city in the far distance and went away from them, to the eastern corner of the map, until it landed down on a tank farm. The tanks began exploding one by one and pouring out black smoke into the air. Prevailing winds blew them east, and a haze shortly descended on the city center.

“They’re reducing viz,” Linear said over voice, “All short range builds, certainly.”

“Doesn’t change anything.” Rahl said.

“Hot damn. Drone over here.” Gavrilo piped up on comms. His voice made him out to be from someplace in the rural south, which Linear enjoyed. Linguistics was her strong suit by design. She heard a report of 60mm come from the adjacent street. “Got ‘im.”

“And we haven’t spotted them yet. Gav, withdraw to me.” Rahl said. In the next instant three cannon rounds ripped through the building adjacent Gavrilo’s machine and broke on his walker. Improbably, all were hits. Gav’s mecha was done for, limping along.

“Opfor is lucky today.” Rahl said, “Lumina, Sabbath, back back back. Lumina to Sabbath.”

Linear thought this was a sound, if conservative plan. Of all the directions, the one they just came from was least likely to contain enemies. She engaged the rolling system and moved through the side street to join up with Sabbath in his retreat. Rahl covered her, rolling backwards, intending to join them as well. Linear clutched her chest. The three mecha that got Gavrilo jumpjetted up and were blessed with a clear sight line to Rahl. All three fired again. Rahl took two armor piercing shells to the citadel while the third blasted against her own mecha. Linear heard him curse over the comm and return fire. He got one of them.

“They’re popping up.” Linear said. It was a tactic where the mech would just peek out over the top of the building, take a shot, and then jumpjet back down. It was a high skill maneuver, but that was the sort of thing you expected to see at this level. Linear tried to slide to the left to get a clear shot at them, but only managed a glancing shot with the heavy laser off of one of them. When they were all on the same street and retreating, Rahl’s mecha caught a searing blast from a heavy laser wielded by an enemy spider at the far end. At least they knew where all four of them were now. Their crew instinctively fanned out and placed shots at the origin point of the laser. Linear was sure she hit it, but it was difficult to say in the haze.

“Fuck. What now?” Sabbath said. This was a pattern Linear was familiar with. Really good teams would trap them into responding, which meant they controlled their behavior.

They rolled backwards past an 8 story office building. She used a physical simulation to determine how best to take it down. A blast of heavy laser cut the reinforced concrete pylons on the street facing side and the whole thing tipped over like a tree, falling into the street with a roar of broken glass and concrete.

“Good. That should cover our retreat.” Rahl said.

“Counterattack!” Linear said. There was a pause on the comms, as they were both surprised by her unusual level of assertiveness.

“Right, they won’t expect that.” Rahl said.

“You two over the building with JJs, I’ll take the side street and pincer them. We’ll pull the same trick on them.” Linear said.

“I like it. Risky. We won’t win this any other way.” Sabbath said.

“Let’s go.” Rahl said. He and Sabbath approached the fallen structure and lifted over it at full speed, vaulting them to the other side. It was the sort of move you can’t take back. Lumina rolled onto the adjacent street to the east and popped off the smoke generator in case she had to fade away. There, rounding a corner, she came face to face with the enemy spidermech. It opened up with its own heavy laser, but the quick shot was poorly aimed to start and and sliced into one of the legs of her mecha. She fired off the line taser and electrified it, cutting short the enemy’s heavy laser blast, and followed that up by stomping on it with one of her spider’s forelegs. The impact-hammer in that leg broke through the citadel and the machine fried itself with the energy stored in its own capacitors. The blowback from this attack fried her own rolling system.

“Spider down!” Linear yelled over the comm. In addition to the rolling system being disabled, the artificial muscles in one of her legs were down to half. She cursed and began to limp the mecha forward. There was simply no way to make it in time to provide support to the other two.

“We’re done.” Rahl said. His portrait on her HUD went red, and then Sabbath’s as well. “All three of them up still. They’re all damaged though.”

“Sorry, Lum.” Sabbath said.

Linear panted and clutched her chest balled her uniform into her fist. The three remaining mecha emerged from the adjacent street and began rolling towards her from out of the haze. She switched her voice comm to public, so that the enemy could hear her. These could very well be her last words. Her voice was even audible on the stream going out to the public, a thought which she didn’t want to dwell on.

“I’m alive, I know—” she said, and switched the heavy laser to low power mode and the line taser to secondary mode. Her voice grew into a crescendo. “Rise and fall. The rhythm of life. This is it! Racing Heart!”

She preemptively fired off the net launcher at the second one in the echelon, knowing it would stifle his intent to fire his TOW missiles for just long enough. The one in the back would risk hitting a friendly if he fired, and held his shot. The unmolested lead mecha launched a volley of TOW missiles. She knew this was coming and her spider pounced into the air, carried aloft by the four jumpjets. The missiles followed her, each one guided by a thin wire. She severed the guidance wires at the root with a precision low-power shot from the heavy laser.

She hammered on the jumpjets, which threw up an array of warning messages suggesting that she didn’t have enough left for a a soft landing. Her mecha crashed down on her opponent, the lead mecha, crushing it beneath her legs. The whole chassis rocked and the cockpit was filled with the sound of warning lights for broken systems. All of her mecha’s legs were broken. Jumpjets were down. The heavy laser was offline. The citadel was rocked by a large caliber round from one of the mecha right next to her, which blew a hole into her machine large enough that she could see the outside through the shrapnel holes. Her ears rang and she was dimly aware that her arm was bleeding. She still had turret rotation, the CPU, and the line taser, though. Her face brightened into a broad smile. Her odds were just about ten percent, but in her mind it was fait accompli.

Linear quickly rotated the citadel turret and carefully struck the nearest one with the line taser. A flashing green light indicated that she had a physical line to the target CPU. A hacking routine assumed control of the enemy mecha and turned it around. A blast of cannon from the controlled unit blew up the third one, and then Linear had the hacking routine simply power down the one she had connected to. She cut off the warning sounds and was, for a moment, alone with the sound of her breathing.

“She called her attack!” Rahl burst into laughter, “Holy shit that was amazing.”

“Who are you and what have you done with Lumina?” Sabbath piped up. She felt a deep flush and her face felt hot. She rolled out her keyboard and found her chat scroll to be full of apoplexy from the researchers.

[Private] To USN4322: I’m back. Mission accomplished. How was the party? At least some of us are working.
[Private] USN4322: Oh thank god. What the hell got into you?
[Private] To USN4322: ACO is a military operation with military objectives. It should be acceptable to risk ones life if there is no other way.
[Private] USN4322: What are you talking about? You don’t understand, Linear.
[Private] To USN4322: Maybe I do understand. What is Racing Heart?
[Private] USN4322: Don’t say anything. We’ll continue this conversation later.

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