Treetops shielded Ren's party from the moonlight, but up ahead was another story. Blue light revealed a military depot in the center of a clearing, complete with guard towers and a radar dome. Spot lights roamed the forests edge, but the look-outs were lazy. There was a larger base elsewhere on the planet. Logic dictated that this small, out of the way depot was in no danger.

When the lights were pointed away from Ren, he set off at a brisk pace. Two others fell into place behind him as he broke from the foliage. He produced a handheld laser upon reaching the perimeter fence. Invisible light cut a man-sized hole in the fence in a matter of seconds. Guards watching the grounds, but the pirates were too difficult to see in their dark clothing. Difficult, not impossible. Ren and his group made a dash for the nearest building. In its shadow, the odds better favored their stealth.

Each had committed the depot's layout to memory during the planning stage of their mission. Guards were over-confident and not very thorough, which made avoiding them fairly easy. The trio made its way to the hangar.

Inside was bright, soft lighting. That meant nowhere to hide. Luckily, the only other people within were a few scattered technicians. Nita and Ibex fired fusion darts from their rifles, silently knocking the techs unconscious before they could raise alarm. "Bodgy security," Ren muttered in his thick accent.

There were four berths in the hangar, only one of them empty - just as expected. The other three contained TR-7 Titan Industries reconnaissance war machines. Perfect for a group of pirates, because they were both easier to maintain and more versatile than the heavier models. Ren selected the nearest for himself. He climbed the ladder to the walkway more quickly than was prudent. After months of training in an obsolete simulator, he was finally going to pilot the real thing.

Like other war machines, the TR-7 was a human-shaped robot roughly fifteen meters tall. Uniquely, however, the reconnaissance model had no built-in weaponry. The entire form looked like polished chrome. Not even primer had been applied yet for the standard radar-absorbing camouflage paint. This one was brand-new.

The tri-door hatch was already open. Ren set his dart rifle in the storage bin next to the control coffin and stepped inside. He pulled the appropriate lever to connect the fusion batteries, and the hatch automatically closed shut. From a pouch on the thigh of his trousers, Ren produced a computer module. It plugged into the port the digital key was usually inserted to. Thirty seconds later, the TR-7's systems were completely over-ridden and Ren was accepted as the new pilot. Air filled the cushions that coated the control coffin, and Ren was completely encased.

"Voice command," Ren choked out, feeling more than a little claustrophobic. The computer beeped in acknowledgment. "Embark." Receiving the war machine's signal, the walkway swung aside. "Voice command: activate interface." Tiny receivers switched on and beamed the TR-7's sensory information into Ren's brain. Instead of the dark control coffin, he had a 180 degree view out the front of his war machine. He could heard other walkways swing through his TR-7's auditory pickups.

Ren tried to walk forward, but the cushions prevented him from moving. Embedded sensors measured the resistance and his TR-7 moved accordingly. Near the main hangar door was a rack with rifles and ammunition fit for a war machine. Ren selected an 80mm seven-barrel chain rifle. His TR-7 mimicked Ren's body movements and lifted an SBC rifle and loaded a round clip into the receptacle behind the forward handhold. Four extra clips attached to the side of the rifle.

Nita and Ibex retrieved weapons and clips from the rack soon after, while Ren took up position in front of the main door. Their movements so far had probably raised some flags, but techs were known to do unusual things with the war machines under their charge. Once the door opened, however, the action would begin. Ibex's TR-7 stood beside Ren, SBC pointed toward the door. Nita triggered the door release, a signal sent to a nearby radio transceiver.

Light splashed across the compound from the hangar's tremendous doorway. The door was only wide enough for one war machine, so they left single-file. Before he even cleared the hangar, Ren located the communications building. At 2000 rounds per minute, it only took a brief tap of the trigger to deal the necessary damage. The SBC spat out bullets with its signature sound. The shells all exploded milliseconds after impact. He targeted the adjacent building while Ibex and Nita left the hangar. Secondary explosions sounded as the communications building finally collapsed, waking everyone who might still be asleep. All three war machines opened fire at the same time, Ibex and Nita at a pair of guard towers and Ren at the barracks.

From their tall war machines, they were able to fire over most of the non-essential buildings and also destroy the remaining guard towers and the command center before the defenders could properly respond. The surviving foot soldiers were now aware of the three stolen TR-7s, but there was little they could do against them with 10mm rifles.

"Voice command: transmit radio frequency Crimson Three." The computer module had included all the appropriate radio codes and friend-or-foe information. "Well, mates, we've got ourselves an arsenal." He heard a chuckle from the coffin's speakers, Ibex's voice. Ren turned his war machine towards his two allies. Their TR-7's were highlighted with a computer-generated red glow. "Ibex," he said to get his comrade's attention. He motioned towards the depot's main gate, and the two took up position on either side. Nita, he knew, would guard the hangar entrance.

Ren's TR-7 beeped an alert, and he saw a truck highlighted in red emerge from the forest. The truck was the first of a small convoy that belonged to the pirates. They're objective was to load up as many 80mm rounds as possible before the Army of the Earth Confederacy sent a team to investigate. Nita helped load the trucks with her TR-7. Only three cargo trucks were filled when Ren's computer alerted him of another moving target.

A chrome TR-7 emerged from the forest in a deep blue glow. It held a variable-ammunition smooth-bore 120mm V-120 rifle. Only a few hits could permanently knock out one of the pirate TR-7s, but first the Army TR-7 had to identify his opponents - the pirates showed up as friendly to the Army IFF. "What the." came a confused voice as the Army pilot noticed the damage done to the depot. A string of four-letter words followed.

Ren and Ibex responded by triggering their SBC rifles. The Army pilot did not have a chance to respond as Ren chipped apart the TR-7's head and Ibex's rifle fire severed the Artificial Nervous System's connection to its legs. The SBC fire was too much for the war machine to take, and it fell back in a heap from the force of the multiple impacts. A TR-7's radio equipment was embedded in the torso, however. Ren heard the Army pilot's distress signal over the internal speakers.

"Time to head back. Ibex, take point." Ibex led the truck convoy back into the forest, his war machine's monstrous strides easily keeping up with the trucks' pace. Nita passed through the gate after the fourth and final truck. Ren took up the rear for the half-hour route to a well- camouflaged corvette, Crimson Tear.

Nita and Ibex transferred the ammunition to Crimson Tear's cargo hold while Ren kept watch. As soon as they were finished, the SR-7s docked in special bays along Crimson Tear's hull. "Voice command: Disable interface." Everything turned black and deathly silent. Voice command: disembark." The bay's outer door sealed shut and the control coffin's air cushions deflated. Internal lights switched on. Ren took a few deep breaths to slow his pulse before retrieving the key and disconnecting the fusion batteries. The hatch opened, revealing a walkway along the bay door.

Crimson Tear rumbled as the engines fired, lifting the corvette into the air. Ren's part in the mission was over. Tear would sneak out of the planet's sensor range and head back to the outpost that served as home to the ship's pirate crew. He caught his own scent as he approached the exit to Bay 01. Perhaps a celebratory shower was in order.