This Is My Rifle

"This is my rifle. It is my life. There are many like it, but this one is mine. Without me, my rifle is nothing. Without my rifle, I am nothing." The Rifleman's Creed was one thing I dreamt of. Waking up, however, was a completely different matter. It was the agonizing jolts of my suit's nerve stimulant shocker that woke me up.

The first thing I saw was my helmet's visor-mounted heads-up display flashing a "Mission Aborted" message in blood red letters. I could not see my reflection in the visor, but I could see outside the tinted, transparent polymer. Not seeing myself in the visor was a first for me. That I could remember, at least. There was a gray, cloudy sky, with an almost brackish tint caused by the city smog. It did not take long for me to realize I was lying prone on a city street.

With the obedient hum of servomotors, I stood upright for the first time. I expected to find myself in the midst of some fierce urban combat or signs therefore off. I surveyed my head around, expecting to find some sign of activity. Instead of my eagerly awaited battle, the only things in my sights were deserted city streets in all directions. No cars, pedestrians, air traffic, or even litter in the breeze appeared before me.

I shifted to infrared, and not even a thermal emission appeared. A sudden gust of wind blew through the street at that moment, creating a ghostly whistle that I could hear clearly through my audio-sensors. The empty buildings and streets seem to extend outward in all directions. I tried to mentally readjust my neuraux link, and radio Mission Command. A single reply came, and began to repeat. I had grown used to the synthetic female voice that Mission Command normally used, but this time, it felt a lot colder.

Operation Tabula Rasa Aborted. Return to Sector Thirteen, Block Four. Await Extraction Team.

I realized I could not recall my name, ID number, or even what mission objectives I had been on. Perhaps I had received some combat injury, and the Extraction Team would clear things up. I called up the map of the city on my neuraux. The implant showed me the location was only two kilometers to the south. I asked the Mission Control voice for my information on why I was lying prone on the ground in the middle of a deserted, nameless city.

Information unavailable. Prepare for extraction.

The two kilometers down the deserted street yielded no signs of human presence. Nothing appeared on my motion-detectors, save the odd gusts of wind. I reached the street corner, and I waited. Within a few moments, my motion-detectors screamed to life with movement. Hostiles were detected, and moving towards me. I instinctively readied my rifle, when I saw the hostiles appear.

Instinctively, I raised my rifle and looked through the scope. The "hostiles" wore Samsara-series smart ceramplate suits like mine, and carried identical rifles. I began to think my sensors were malfunctioning, as this was almost certainly a friendly Extraction Team.

One question appeared in my mind. They didn't have any air transport for fast movement. Either they had a command center nearby I wasn't aware of. Since I had detected no abnormal thermal emissions or motion prior to this, it either must be well hidden or somehow resistant to my sensors. Considering making a command center your own soldiers couldn't detect went against all reason, I was quite stumped.

Looking at the squad, I noted their armaments. Some had A19 rifles like I carried, others had 30mm gyrok launchers. One had even a SPAW-3 submachine gun. Some had more than two hands. A few had the Kali-series autoarms, shoulder mounted robotic arms that could hold and fire an additional weapon and track targets three-hundred and sixty degrees in three dimensions.

They noticed me, and raised their weapons. "Are you the Extraction Team?" I asked aloud.

No response. Something was wrong here. They were moving in an assault formation, rather than a search one. They had heavy weapons up, safety off, and pointed in my direction.

Team has arrived. Stand still and await Extraction.

Unless "Extraction" really meant "Execution," I was quite confident rescue was not this team's goal. I would have to find some means of escape. The streets had nothing I could take cover behind, but the closest alley might. I turned my head to scan the closet alleyway, just as the first gunshots rang out.

This was just as I had ran into the alley. There was about five attackers. Two riflers, one submachine gunner, and two grenadiers. Either they were humans, cybrids, or even suits programmed to run autonomously. Whatever was moving those faceless suits, they were out to kill me. Why, I had no idea.

Return to the Team. You must be Extracted.

I would have to kill them first, of course. The powered armor would make it difficult. With a quick check of my rifle's mag, I found gyrojet rounds were loaded. The normal 7.62mm caseless rounds would have insignificant power to penetrate smart ceramplate. Gyrok rounds might, but I would have to create distance.

Unlike normal rounds, gyrojet rounds, or gyroks, gain power the farther you are from the target. A normal bullet fires and starts to decelerate as soon as it leaves the barrel. A gyrojet round, essentially a miniature rocket, accelerates even after it leaves the barrel, building momentum as it goes. Judging from the sounds of my attackers' rifles, they were using conventional 7.62mm rounds. The distinct hiss of rocket rounds was missing, so I assumed my smart ceramplate would be able to withstand quite a bit of those.

Of course, two members of the team were armed with gyrok launchers, pistol sized weapons with the firepower of anti-tank missiles. Unlike the 7.62mm rifle gyroks, the gyrok launchers were more grenade launchers. It would really stink if they brought "smart" rounds with them as well.

In the alleyway, I saw I did not have much. There was an old refuse dumpster, and a rusting fire escape above me. The fire escape should be just enough height. If I was firing from the fire escape, I would have the advantage of high ground, and fire at an angle to the ground. That should be enough for my gyrojet rounds to achieve enough momentum.

I climbed on top the dumpster as I saw my pursuers enter the alley. I leapt up and grabbed the fire escape, as rounds filled the air. I ducked down and tried to keep a low profile. It was unlikely to keep them from seeing me, but it was likely to make their aiming harder. A few rounds did hit me in the faceplate. Thankfully, they had lost enough momentum to be stopped by the reinforced, transparent polymer that comprised my visor. When they hit my ceramplate armor, the bullet would simply be stopped. The composite materials of the armor were literally designed to take a storm of bullets, after all.

I had reached the third story of the fire escape when I estimated I had enough height. I turned and fired at my first target, the head of a grenadier, aiming with his gyrok launcher. I pulled the trigger, and a series of sounds not unlike a ball being deflated filled the air. The three round burst hit the grenadier's faceplate, shattering it, and spilling his brains onto the ground behind them. Then again, it might be a "her," or an "it," but that would have to wait. What mattered now was trying to kill them before they killed me.

There was still another grenadier, a submachinegunner, and two riflers. The remaining grenadier was the greatest threat, the riflers were second, and the submachinegunner was the least. Because the SMG was a close range weapon, I would simply be careful not to let him in too close. The SPAW-3 could shred a faceplate at close enough range.

The next tactic the Extraction Team tried was a crafty one. Two riflers came, each moving down the right and left sides of the alleyway, firing up at me. While I instinctively dove for cover, the grenadier emerged into the mouth of the alley and fired at my prone form. I did not see the submachinegunner as I focused on the incoming 30mm gyrok grenade.

It was then I took a gambit. If it was a smart projectile, it would track me and still get me. If not, going somewhere to take cover would also work. Quickly, I moved to the ladder that lead down and jumped down to the second story. No sooner had I landed on the metal fire escape than the grenade exploded mere meters from me. Thankfully, the brunt of the explosion was absorbed by the fire escape. Luckily for me, modern fire escapes were designed to withstand a lot of heat, pressure, and damage.

The portion of the blast that wasn't taken by the fire escape was harmlessly absorbed by my suit. The ceramplate had a good ceramic portion, which was quite resistant to heat and able to cool down rapidly as well. My motion sensor registered something climbing up towards me. I stood up and turned around, with my finger on the trigger. There was nothing. However, a burst of flechette rounds from below quickly revealed the location of the attacker.

The submachinegunner had climbed up the fire escape during the grenade attack, and was now on the ladder below me firing up. I quickly aimed down and fired into his faceplate. Thankfully, the rounds still have enough force to penetrate his visor, and emerge from the other side. Blood and brains leaked out, and the gyrok continued out. Two of my opponents were taken out.

I wanted to remove the grenadier so they couldn't try that ago. I quickly turned and fired at the grenadier, who was in the middle of aiming for another shot. Three down. The two riflers would be fairly easy, provided they did not get within point-blank range. The two riflers, now seemingly desperate, tried a standard assault tactic. One threw a grenade while the other ran forward firing at me. Before he could aim, however, I drew a bead on him, and fired. Apparently, I had overestimated the range needed to take penetrate their faceplate with gyrojet rounds.

The last rifler was now alone. He was not in plain sight, taking cover around the entrance to the alleyway. I assumed was calling for backup. I was quite surprised when he ran towards the fire escape, and started to climb it. I was also quite surprised to see the live grenade in his hand. He had barely got to the bottom of the ladder when I took him out. The grenade exploded a few seconds later, doing little damage to the fire escape and my armor. What a waste of explosives.

Extraction failed! Heavy Extraction Team will arrive shortly.

To be honest, I had no idea why they were trying to kill me. I had no idea what Operation Tabula Rasa was, nor how I knew to handle these weapons. Either way, I did not care, so long as it kept me alive. Since the power-cells for Samsara-type powered suits were interchangeable, I decided to do some scavenging. I managed to get several power cells, rifle magazines, a few grenades, and other items. Among the other items was the pair of autoarms.

Due to the magic of interchangeable parts, I could mount the set on my suit as well. It would be as easy as wearing a backpack. The autoarms would change magazines, provide fire support, and could target additional hostiles. Since either Mission Command was crazy, or I was, I would need all the fire support I could get. Speaking of that, I borrowed one of the 30mm gyroks. I allowed the autoarms to hold it and reload it, since I would have my rifle. It was my life, after all.

I began to see the next Extraction Team moving in. This time, it wasn't soldiers. It was a Tarkhan-series unmanned main battle tank. It wasn't the 110mm rail gun on the main turret that worried me, but the flamer mounted on the side as an anti-infantry weapon. To destroy the thing, I would have to disable a central processor under the turret. Normally, the gyrok grenade launcher would be suited to that, but the Tarkhan had company.

This time, they brought air support. Thankfully, it was only a single helicopter gunship, a Reaper. It was primarily designed for tank-hunting and radar elimination, and was quite vulnerable to small arms. Small arms like a certain 30mm weapon I had just recovered. With the beating of helicopter rotors drawing ever closer, I knew I would have to set it up fast.

No sooner had I set up my gyrok and autoarms than the Reaper appeared over the rooftops. The gunship resembled a cross between a bird of prey, dolphin, and weapons arsenal. The missile pods, chain gun, and fuel-air explosives all were not things I would prefer to tangle with. The tinted, dark polymer over the cockpit prevented me from seeing if there was a human pilot or if it was automated. To be honest, I did not care. Either way, the Reaper would still be gunning for me. Just then, I heard an electronic "beep."

The targeting cursor turned red, signaling alignment with the target. The autoarm pulled the trigger. The Reaper near had a chance. The rocket projectile slammed into the helicopter's weakest point, the connection between the rotor blades and the body. The flaming wreckage slammed into a single-storied building, and exploded again. The fuel tanks must've finally ignited.

Extraction copter neutralized. Tarkhan UMBT moving towards position.

My feeling of triumph was short-lived. The distinctive rumble of the tank grew louder, and appeared around a corner. The massive rail gun was trained on me, as the automated flamer also followed my movements. I realized how screwed I was when the turret began to charge. The distinctive hum of the electromagnets charging I thought would be the last thing I heard. Until I realized how the turret had turned enough to exposed its sensitive point. My gyrok-armed autoarm fired again, blasting the Tarkhan's weak point. What was Operation Tabula Rasa, and why was it so important?

Operation Tabula Rasa was a plan to create an AI to automate Samsara-series suits more efficiently. It would have no memories, nor reasons to disobey orders.

I was quite surprised the voice finally answered. Then why try to kill me?

The test unit gained sentience, escaped from research facility, but was hit with an EMP, wiping its memory banks partially. For research purposes, the suit's CPU must be Extracted by any means necessary.

Then why attack me? You can have the damn chip!

Correction: You are the AI.

Deep inside, I knew that was true. I did not know why, but I knew it was true. I had no idea why the voice from Mission Command would tell me this. I had no idea why a lot of things were happening, though. Perhaps as a psychological warfare tactic. Either way, I did not care. I didn't even have a reflection in my suit's visor. Come to think of it, it was not my suit. That implied I was a soldier in the suit. That suit, however, was my body. How about this city? Where'd everyone go?

More Extraction Teams en route. Surrender now. Your deactivation will be painless.

That was when I began to search inside myself. They had to have some sort of tracking device on me. The autoarms and weapons had no such devices, but the suit might. Lifting my visor, I reached inside. It was quite strange, however, feeling around my hollow insides. Eventually, I found the traitorous component, and ripped out it. I stomped on it, and considered my options. The sewers were strait ahead. I could survive by scavenging for a long time. If one more of these Extraction Teams has the misfortune of finding me, I shall insure they see the business end of my rifle. For it is my life.