The Frontier

“No quarter given, no quarter expected.”

Legionnaire Octavia Trebonius

The armored legionnaire remained motionless scanning the horizon for the telltale signs of the approaching Muslim horde.  The EPC-30 was unshouldered from the back-rack, cradled in metaled arms and trained in the expected direction of the assault.  The turbine blades of the gas fueled powerpack could be heard, the whine a low growl in pitch meant the machine was in a combat-ready state.  The Mark III combat suit had survived many deadly encounters, the metal skin of the warhorse was patched in spots, the smooth outer surface gouged and pitted from the many strikes of highspeed projectiles.  A non-reflective, desert camouflage pattern of tan, brown and yellow covered the machine, canon and the cabling that connected the weapon to the powerpack.

Occasionally the machine adjusted position, each step of its five-ton weight causing the ground to slightly tremble.  The visor of the helm was raised up out of place giving the occupant a true view the surroundings.  Steely, blue eyes could just be seen moving back and forth from behind the thick glass of the vision slit.  The legionnaire continued scanning the horizon.

Octavia Trebonius was a seasoned veteran, trained from early childhood in art of war, she had known no other way of life.   The battle armor she wore had become an extension of herself and woe be any who might cross her path.

The enemy tanks were said to number in the hundreds.  The dust clouds they would kick up on the desert floor would offer the first telltale signs of their approach.  Octavia was prepared to die to protect her country; deep down she knew that death was a real possibility.   The legionnaires fear, however, never got the better of her.  She was hardened to the sight of death, to the horrors of war.

Throughout the week over a million Terrans had passed through city gates like the one she was guarding hoping to find safety behind the thick, metaled walls.  Now, only a trickle of refugees, mostly the elderly and infirm, were making their way down the final section of causeway to hoped-for sanctuary.

“Octavia, fuel tender has arrived, point Tango, Charlie, Alpha,” crackled a man’s voice over the internal audio circuitry.

The humming of the spinning turbine blades could be heard increasing slightly from the rear side of the machine as power was added when the legionnaire began to move.  Slight waves of heat shimmered through the starburst pattern of cooling vents cut into the powerpack metal.  Given the weight and size of the machine the metal beast appeared surprisingly agile.

“Affirmative, Point Tango, Charlie, Alpha,” she responded turning to take one last look out onto the horizon to see nothing but a barren, dry landscape.

“Coming through,” she announced over the external loud speaker as she lifted the heavy cannon up, over her right shoulder where it locked precisely into position through two large magnetic contact points.

The more ambulatory of the civilians quickly stepped aside, clearing a path for the ten-foot, tall leviathan as she continued toward the main city gate.  The older men and women struggled to clear the way leaving only one elderly man who refused to move out of her path.  Instead, he continued to shuffle slowly to the gateway.  She was forced to stop.

“Clear a path!” boomed her voice over the speaker.

His slow, walking movement suddenly came to a halt.  He turned slowly to face Octavia, then looked straight into her eyes with an understanding gaze, a twinkle in his eye that told her he understood what she was thinking.

The old man smiled, then added, “Am I in your way legionnaire?”

Octavia paused for a moment before answering when she noticed his telltale scars of war.  Zooming in on the old man’s face, it was marked with the disfigurement one would only experience when an armored suit was penetrated, spalling that both broke bone and  burned flesh.  She next recognized the faded, circular tattoo of a legionary on the man’s right cheek.  Combat suits had been in the Terran arsenal for a century now, three generations of men and women had worn them in the war.  Octavia zoomed in on the man’s face to see if she could make out the legionary marking, only full-fledge legionnaires wore the ‘grey’ symbol of metal.

“A hand if you will, Legionnaire.”

What’s this? she thought.

Again with a smile he said, “Well, come on you ‘Bull,’ we haven’t got all day.”

The Bull was insignia of her legion, the Tenth.  

Her question came back over the loud speaker, “You wore the grey, what legion were you with?”

Even though he was hearing the normal, mechanical voice of a armored legionnaire the old man could see through the clear vision port that Octavia had the features of a woman.

“I was with the III Legion, my dear…”  He paused for a moment as if catching his breath, “and I was probably fighting the Muslims in one of those suits before you were born.”

She smiled to herself, her father’s legion, the III Legion, the “Ironclads.”

The Ironclads were an elite mechanized legion under the command of Terra’s greatest military commander, Legate (General) Gaius Trebonius.

If this man had served with the III Legion he deserved her respect.

“Do you still know how to hop on for a ride?” Octavia asked.

“Lady, I remember everything.”

No surprise, she thought.  This man had once been one of the best class of warriors this nation produced.  

One armored clad Terran legionnaire was said to be worth a company of Communist or Muslim tanks, a dozen machines.  A Terran Centurion (Staff Sergeant) similarly armored was said to be worth twice that number. 

After taking several heavy-footed steps forward she bent down while extending her left, metaled hand down to ground level, palm up and open so it would act as a foot stop.

As she remained in place, the humming of the turbine blades of the power plant softened at bit.

“Climb aboard, Ironclad.”

It took a moment for the old man to work his way up onto the improvised footstool and to lock his arms around the upper arm for support.

Once seated somewhat safely he responded, “Just inside the wall and out of the way will be fine, legionnaire.  I don’t want to miss the fireworks this one last time.”

The old man’s words were ominous.  The approaching enemy army were made up of Muslims who had made landfall two weeks earlier using Indonesia as their stepping stone into the northern provinces.  In that short period, the Muslim hordes had rolled over an entire Terran army and their progress into the interior of the country seemed unstoppable.  The enemy were, however, now be up against the armored legions and the Bull Legion was one of Terra’s best.  The X Legion was there to stop the approaching hoard, the legionaries would be using a belt of fortified, frontier cities that marked the beginning of the habitable, lush lands of the eastern provinces.

Octavia was careful not to move too quickly.  The old legionnaire had been one of the best, but that was during his prime.  Now, he was like anyone else his age, tired, worn out and easily broken.

The two passed under the twenty-foot archway and under the meter-thick alloy blast-door that would fall into place and provide some measure of protection against ballistic attack once the enemy appeared.  Octavia was met by the sight of twenty, or so tracked ‘Heavies,’ Panzers parked facing the main gate on either side of the thoroughfare, their long, protruding cannons trained at one o’clock and eleven o’clock respectively.

Octavia breathed a sigh of relief.  The rest of the legion is finally beginning to arrive.

The Heavies were a new model of main battle tank; fifty-ton, tracked, land monitors mounting a single turret and sporting the new seventy-five millimeter, rapid-fire EMPs.  Those panzers were manned by a crew of three: the driver, gunner and commander and really had not changed in general appearance for over a millennia.  The Heavies were painted in a familiar, desert camouflage pattern and bore the small, black outline of the X Legion insignia “the Bull” on the right side of each turret.  The gas turbine engines idled as they waited for orders.  This same scene was occurring at every city gate facing west as elements of the legion arrived by highspeed rail.

Along the parapet of the wall in both directions, engineering teams could now be seen with their cranes, lowering armored sentinels, automated copula, into place.  Evenly spaced, some  had already been hoisted into place and the high-speed, rotary canons were now moving, seeking out enemy targets using internal, high-gain radars.  The copula were primarily designed for air defense and would engage aerial targets ranging from the “land skimmers” (cruise missiles) to attack, or surveillance drones to manned, jet aircraft.  Before the Muslim hoard arrived many rooftops within the city would be topped with one of these automated sentinels, the titanium projectiles shredding any enemy target that happened to come within range.

Terra had survived centuries of war and stood as the one remaining beacon of liberty and freedom in the world.  Through  innovation the Terrans had remained technically superior; innovation had been a natural byproduct of a free and open society.  The Terran Constitution had been modeled upon the founding document of the former democratic nation, the United States.  Many of today’s Terrans’ ancestors had immigrated from that communist stronghold.

“This is good!” shouted the old man.  “I want to see them coming.”

Octavia’s more mechanical sounding voice came over the external speaker.  “You know, I can’t do that.”

“And, why not,” the old man demanded.

“This is going to be a war zone in a matter of hours, if not minutes.”

“Hell, so what.”

“Do you have some kind of death wish?”

“We’re, going…” he paused to catch his breath, “we’re going to die today anyway.  I…” another pause, “I want to see them coming!”

Octavia could see the old legionnaire’s point, the request even seemed rational.  If she were in his shoes, she would want the same thing…a warrior’s death.  

“Don’t worry about me,” he stated during the pause.  “I want to go the same way many of my fellow legionnaires have gone.  I don’t want to die like some rat underground hiding.  I want a soldier’s death.”

Yes, she thought, that would be the way I too would want to go, to die a warrior’s death.

Without saying a word, she made a quarter turn and slowly lowered the old man to the ground.  Wriggling himself free the old man looked up into Octavia’s eyes behind the faceplate.

“Good luck, legionnaire,” she heard the man say.

Octavia did not envy what this poor soul was about to experience.  At least death would come quickly for the old man, if not from shrapnel, then by the percussion waves of the blast.  Hopefully, the old man would not be forced to suffer the agonizing death millions of Terrans had so far suffered.  Word was, the Muslims were using phosgene gas to soften up civilian, population centers.  No, she hoped the old man would not be tormented with that sort of heinous death. 

“Farewell, legionnaire,” she replied.  

“Wait!  One more thing,” he shouted.  “What’s your name?”

“My name is Octavia Trebonius.”

“Your father…your father isn’t Legate Trebonius is it?”

Octavia smiled to herself, “They’re one in the same, legionnaire.”  

The female warrior was proud of her family’s military tradition, five generations of men and women who had served in the legions of Terra.  Her father was just one of several Legates to carry the name Trebonius in history.  If this war turned out as she hoped, she too hoped to wear the purple of Legate, if this war turned out as she hoped.

Octavia, her ancestors, had been extraordinary people: statesmen, military commanders, one had even been risen to ‘co-leader’ of the Republic.  Today, Gaius commanded the Terran legionary forces; fifteen hardcore, armored legions that numbered from III through XIV.  Her brother Titus had become one of the youngest men to wear the gold of a Praetorian Guard and subsequently risen through the ranks to become ‘Primus’ (first Centurion) of the 1st Cohort.  She herself had risen through the ranks on her own merits proving herself worthy of wearing the mantel of ‘the Bull.’

The searing noise of the turbine powerplants of the panzers increased in intensity.  She turned to see the Heavies now belching flames just above the engine decking at the rear of each giant as more petrol was injected into the spinning vortices.  

She turned back for one final glance to see the old man making slow strides towards a stairway leading up to the parapet of the city wall.

He is right, she thought, the Muslims had never gotten this far before.  No matter, the situation is what it is.  This has always been a fight to the death.  No quarter will be given, no quarter is expected.

Octavia paused as the column of screaming, clattering machines advanced to a fate unknown.

There are going to be hundreds of enemy tanks those poor fellows will be expected to take on.  I doubt if there will be many who survive these next few days.

As the last Heavy exited the gateway she could just make the old man yell to her, “Give ’em hell Octavia Trebonius!”

As she stepped off in the direction of the fuel tender she heard him shout again, “I will see you again in the next…” his voice was drowned out by the tumult of more panzers as they moved past her in precise order, one followed by another, then another, until all had disappeared through the main gate in a cloud of sand.

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