Sentient Conflict: Turning the Tide

===Chapter Start===

I heard Ricky speak. "Now, you may feel a little different. That's because of the new type of sync. MUO scientists created a new type of sync that allows you to actually possess the Mech. Your consciousness is in the Mech, but when you move, so does your body. Sensors were installed all over the Mech, so you will feel what the Mech feels." I heard a ding, signaling that the sync was complete. "Now that the sync is complete, you should start to see a HUD forming." Indeed, there was the same HUD as was in my helmet forming in my view. "I'm sure you've noticed, but the HUD is the same as it is in your helmet. Let's begin movement slowly. I want you to take a step with only your right leg." I moved my right leg and stepped forward slowly. I wobbled slightly, but didn't try to regain my balance as I figured that would cause more harm than good. "Good, now your left leg." I stepped forward with my left leg. "Hold up your right arm." I raised my right arm. "Lower it and raise your left." I did. "Now, turn your head and look around." I turned my head and saw that the other three pilots were doing similar things. "You're progressing nicely. Now, make your way to the waypoint I've placed on your map."

I turned towards the door and slowly walked out. As I walked, my balance improved until it was similar to how I normally walk. When I got to the waypoint, Ricky spoke again.

"Now, I want you to start running. Start at a walk and slowly speed up as you go."

I followed his orders and walked forward, speeding up to a jog, and finally hitting a run. When Roland told me to stop, I slowed down. He directed me to the shooting range, and when I arrived, there were some cargo transports carrying our weapon racks.

"Wait for your teammates before you do anything else," Ricky said.

"Alright," I said. I was surprised. My voice didn't sound normal, it sounded slightly mechanical. Ricky apparently noticed my surprise.

"You seem to have discovered that your voice comes out of the Mech when you speak." I thought I detected a hint of amusement in his voice, but I wasn't sure.

A moment later, Dozer, Wraith, and Rhino slowed to a stop beside me. We looked around at each other before our radios crackled to life. "Squad 2, two things. First, decide on a name. Second, grab your preferred long range weapon and set up on the range."

I glanced at Dozer, Wraith, and Rhino. "Any ideas?" They shook their heads. There was silence for a minute. "How about Hunters?" Dozer held up two thumbs while Wraith and Rhino nodded once. "Now, lets get set up."

It took us several minutes before we were able to get set up. I had chosen my LR while the other three chose their personalized Strike Package Light Machine Gun, or SPLMG, which was based off of the HAMR light machine gun. Dozer's had an ACOG scope and fore-grip, Wraith's could switch between bullets and frags and had a target finder scope, and Rhino's had an increased rate of fire and a larger clip size.

When we had set up on our chosen ranges, our radios crackled to life once more. "Now that you all are ready, there are targets set up on your ranges that you can shoot at. This will help you get use to your new toys. Have fun."

I held my LR up to my eye, sighted in on the nearest target, and pulled the trigger. The recoil was more than I was used to, but it didn't affect me much. I didn't wait to see the result before shooting at the next three targets on the range. When I stopped firing and looked at my handiwork, I was surprised. I had created a crater were the first target was, disintegrated the second, turned the third into splinters, and punctured a 30 centimeter hole in the fourth target, which was the only target made of titanium. I put my LR on safety and set it back on the rack and selected my HSAM. When I returned to my chosen range, I noticed that the targets had been changed and the remaining target was laying on the ground by the shooter's position. I aimed at the new targets and opened fire. Four shots later, I surveyed the damage. Although I knew it cause less damage than the sniper rounds, I wan't expecting the HSAM rounds to tear through the first target with enough force to cut it in half and cut a two meter gouge in the ground behind it. The other three rounds tore through their targets, but didn't cleave them in two. They left a hold and various length gouges in the soil behind. After racking my HSAM, I grabbed my FiveSeven and fired four shots at the newest targets. The damage wasn't very high, but I wasn't surprised. All the targets had a hole in them, but nothing else occurred. I racked my sidearm and collected my pile of used targets before sitting in wait by the weapon racks for my teammates.

A few minutes later, I was admiring a sword I had found in my weapon rack when my teammates returned with their weapons and what remained of their targets. Dozer had several targets that had bullet holes in precise marks, Wraith had the remains of four targets, each of which had a chunk missing from an explosion and several bullet holes, and Rhino's targets had the most bullet holes and least accuracy.

They racked their weapons, and we headed back to the Mech storage with our targets. When we entered the building and had put our used targets in our areas, we were about to power down when our radios crackled to life. "Squad two-"

I cut the whoever was talking off. "Hunters."

"What?!"

"We've named ourselves Hunters."

"Alright, Hunters, you are being deployed. Collect everything you'l need and get to the transport zone. A Spec Ops Military Transport will be there waiting for you. Briefing will occur en route. Command out."

I turned around to find the other three looking at me. "What?"

They glanced at each other before looking back at me and Dozer spoke. "You are our unofficial leader."

I was bewildered. "I...uh...thanks. You heard command, get your things together and get to the transport zone."

They saluted and went to their Mech bays. I went to mine and made sure my weapons were all in the rack and put the rack on a cargo transport that drove up. I also stacked several crates of ammo that I would put in clips on the trip. The transport left as soon as I was done and I waited by the door for the other three. They showed up shortly thereafter and three other cargo transports drove past. I turned and we quickly made our way to the transport zone. When we arrived, a Spec Ops Military Transport was landing. When the bay doors were open, the cargo transports drove into the ship and were unloaded quickly before they left. We powered down our Mechs and got out.

While we were walking to the briefing room, I asked a question that had been on my mind. "When did you decide I would be the leader?"

"You've proved yourself to us and that you can work in difficult situations. We decided right after we chose our squad name," Ryan said.

I nodded as we entered the briefing room and sat down around a table. The holograph projector in the middle hummed to life and the MUO Command logo, an eagle with a gear behind it, appeared. We straightened in our chairs and the logo disappeared, only to be replaced with a small scale version of our commander. We saluted him.

"At ease. We have recently discovered that the Ascendents have something that has the ability to decimate our forces. Your job is to find where that object is being held and destroy it. You are currently en route to Nemus. A map of the planet has been uploaded to your HUD and will activate shortly before you arrive. Good luck."

We saluted once more and the hologram disappeared. I turned to my teammates. "Let's go get prepared." They nodded and we went to the cargo bay. We opened the crates of ammunition and clips and set about the task of loading the empty clips. When we finished loading clips, we then loaded each clip into the clip dispenser system on the backs of our Mechs. When we needed a fresh clip, we could reach to our backs and grab one. I attached the sword's sheath to my Mech's back with the sword's hilt poking over the right shoulder slightly. The LR went on the back as well and the FiveSeven went in a holster on the right leg. As soon as I had finished making sure everything was secure, a map appeared on my HUD. "Guys, finish up and get synced!"

"YES SIR!" they chorused.

I climbed into my harness and Ricky started the sync once I was secure. Thirty seconds later, my view of the world had changed. I stepped forward a little and grabbed my HSAM off of my weapon rack. I then walked to the doors and waited for one of several things. One, the transport would open the doors as it landed, letting us off easily. Two, the doors would open and we would free fall for a bit. Three, the transport would get shot down and we would have to break out before impact. A short time later, Dozer, Wraith, and Rhino stepped up behind me, waiting for the doors to open.

When the green light turned on and the doors opened, I jumped out without a seconds hesitation. The others followed me, and just in time too. Not very long after Rhino jumped out, the transport was shot and went up in a ball of flames. I ignited my thruster pack to slow my descent and landed softly on the giant forest floor. Dozer lived up to his name as he took out an entire tree, which is pretty impressive considering the trees on Cartographer are usually around 21 to 40 meters tall and over two meters thick. Wraith used the branches of a nearby tree to slow his descent as he seemingly glided down. I guess that's how he got his name. Rhino simply crashed to the ground, although nothing happened to him because of all the armor. We made sure our weapons were loaded and scanned the area for hostiles.

"Area secure," Dozer said.

"Ricky, scan the planet and plan a path to the estimated target area."

"Understood." There was a pause. "I've set up a waypoint on your HUD."

"Thanks." I turned until I could see the waypoint. "Let's move." We began to slowly move forward. I took point and kept an eye out for enemies in front of us. Wraith and Rhino were slightly behind me to either side and were watching our sides while Dozer followed behind them and watched our flank. I held my HSAM and had just walked past a cave when my radar blipped. I looked at it and stopped. It blipped again and showed a red dot a short ways ahead of us and to our right. "Hold here and keep alert. Unknown detected at one o'clock."

"Yes sir!" the other three chorused.

I moved away from my team slowly with my HSAM at the ready. When I was almost to the red dot, I stopped and took a deep breath before poked my head around a tree and saw a single Ascendent in it's Mech and looking back and forth as if it were a sentry. I looked through the scope until I had the Ascendent in the center and pulled the trigger twice. The first bullet merely put a hole in the right side of the Mech. The second shot, because of the weakened frame, tore the machine in half and blew part of it up by hitting a fuel line. The explosion, while small, was loud and sent shrapnel flying everywhere. Not even a second after the explosion, I heard the cry of a wounded animal. Not knowing what to expect, I approached the sound cautiously.

When I came around a tree, I saw what looked like a giant wolf. It was laying in what looked like an empty creek and there was a big piece of shrapnel embedded in its side. From the looks of it, the shrapnel had missed organs and vitals that would instantly cause death, but hit things that would cause an insane amount of pain while giving a slow death, made even slower and more painful by staying in the wound. The wolf moved its head slightly and looked at me with pain filled eyes. Rather than let it lay and suffer, I decided to put it out of its misery and shot it in the head. Right before I pulled the trigger, I could swear I saw thankfulness in the wolf's eyes. I made sure the wolf was dead before I went back to my team.

"Enemy down. Let's keep moving." They nodded.

I turned and began walking through the forest towards the waypoint once again. Every now and then, we encountered some sort of native wildlife, which all ran, but no sign of the Ascendents aside from the one I had killed earlier. The trees came to an abrupt stop as did the land. We stood on a high cliff that overlooked an extremely large valley. Right in the middle of said valley, there was what looked like a military supply city. The architecture was not like anything that I and my team had ever seen or heard of. Everything seemed to flow seamlessly together and nothing stood out much from anything else, not to mention the buildings were all green, but it wasn't paint or plants that gave it that color.

I set my HSAM on the ground and pulled out my LR and switched on the adjustable X450 zoom I had installed on the ACOG scope. I scanned the city and zoomed in closer for more detail when I saw something that made my blood run cold. Slaves. Thousands of slaves. What made it worse was that the slaves were women and female children of the ascendents. From all the encounters the human race had with the Ascendents, there seemed to be no difference between males and females. It seemed that we were wrong as the slaves here were clearly female.

"Ricky, I want you to send a live feed of what I'm seeing to Dozer, Wraith, Rhino, and a recording to MUO," I said.

"Live feed sent and recording in progress."

I continued to scan the city slowly and zoomed in on the slaves and overseers.

"Slaves! They use slaves?!" Rhino exclaimed.

"Obviously," Wraith replied. "It's immoral and wrong, but they don't care. Ghost, are we going to free those slaves and complete the objective?"

"Cut the feed and stop the recording," I said.

"Feed cut and recording has been sent to MUO."

"We'll see what we can do for them while we complete the objective. Wraith, stay with me. Dozer, Rhino, head to the city, but wait until I say to enter. Take out the overseers and fighters, but try not to hit the slaves. If we can, we'll free them," I commanded.

"Yes sir!"

Dozer and Rhino dropped off the edge of the ridge to begin making their way to the city as I checked that my LR was loaded. I set a mark on each overseer I saw so that I could quickly find my targets.

"Ghost, this is Dozer. We are in position and waiting for your go."

"Dozer, this is Ghost. When the overseer closest to you drops, you are clear to go. Ghost out."

"Understood. Dozer out."

I aimed at the overseer closest to where my scanner showed Dozer and Rhino were, steadied, and fired. I didn't wait to see if he dropped before I moved on to the next one and the one after that. After I took out the fourth overseer, the others knew something was up and had taken cover. By this time, Dozer and Rhino had made good progress into the city.

"Wraith, we're moving to join them." I turned on my radio. "Dozer, this is Ghost. We are moving into the city. Keep moving until all areas are clear. Ghost out."

"I copy Ghost."

Wraith and I jumped off the cliff and after a short free fall, we began moving towards the city. We jogged through the trees and came to a cleared line that formed a dirt road and began jogging on that. When we got to the city, it was chaotic. Many of the slaves were running around in a panic and the remaining overseers had apparently gathered into groups. One such group was near the city entrance and were blocking the way, keeping the slaves from running into the forest. I raised my HSAM, took aim, and fired several rounds, taking out five of the overseers while Wraith took out the rest in the group.

"Dozer, this is Ghost. What is your current location?"

"This is Dozer. Current location is center city at the base of the tallest building."

"Hold position until we get there. Ghost out."

"Holding position. Dozer out."

"Wraith, lets get to the roofs. If they can hold us, it will be easier than going through the crowds."

"I agree."

We moved over to the side of a building and I jumped while activating my thruster pack, which shot me a little higher in the air and onto the roof. Wraith used a grappling hook to get up. We shot across the rooftops at a high speed, taking quick shots at the overseers that we encountered along the way. It wasn't long until we reached the tallest building and slowed to a stop. As we peered over the edge, we saw that Dozer and Rhino were holding their ground, but were about to be pushed back.

"Let's give 'em some relief."

Wraith nodded and we opened fire on the overseers that were advancing on our teammates. Ten were shredded by our bullets before they realized that they were outgunned and outmatched. Instead of surrendering or dropping their weapons, all of them focused their fire on Dozer.

"Wraith, you are clear to use frags. Take as many out as you can with three shots."

"Yes sir."

Wraith flipped a switch on his SPLMG and changed the clip with one marked 'EXPLOSIVES' before firing three consecutive shots at different spots in the group of Ascendent overseers. The first shot hit right in the middle of the group and essentially shredded the nearest ones. The second did a little less damage, but managed to take out a good portion of them as well. The third did even less damage than the second, but still took out a good amount. Wraith switched back to regular bullets and the combined fire from all four of us killed the rest of the group. Wraith and I dropped down off the roof and went over to Dozer and Rhino.

"What's the damage assessment on the Mechs you two?" I asked them.

"I'm a little scratched up, but nothing major," Rhino replied.

"Even after being peppered like that, I'm still good to go. Front armored hull is at fifty percent and can hold up until it drops to twenty. When it hits twenty, I'll have to be more careful," Dozer said.

"Good. Now, we're going in this building and its obvious that there is nothing on the upper levels, so let's go down. Rhino, take point. Dozer, watch our backs. This should help keep your frontal armor above twenty percent. Wraith, you'll be on the left and me on the right. Let's go."

Rhino charged through the double doors and we followed him. At the first door marked stairs, Rhino once more broke the door and we headed down the stairs. About forty landings down we were on basement level 20 and couldn't go lower. Rhino destroyed the door and the wall around it and we emerged into a giant room. It looked like a natural cavern, but it was the object in the middle that scared us. Obviously a giant bomb, we knew that we had to destroy it.

"Look around for a time delay so that we can get out," I said.

The others nodded, and we spread out. At first, nothing went wrong. I was looking at several control panels near some tall and wide doors. However, when I began to move away to check elsewhere, the doors opened. I was immediately under heavy fire. I returned fire and managed to take a few of them down, but they shot my Mech's right leg off at the knee and heavily damaged the other and the frontal armor. Right as my frontal armor dropped to twenty-one percent, Rhino, Dozer, and Wraith showed up and took them out. Dozer walked over to me and helped me stand on my remaining leg while Rhino and Wraith walked over to the still open doors.

"It's an elevator. Since none of us found a timer, someone's going to have to stay and ignite the bomb manually," said Wraith.

I nodded. "Dozer, help me to the main control panel. Ricky can help me blow the bomb while I use my Mech to protect myself long enough for you three to get yourselves away from the blast area. Wraith, since you're the fastest now, take my thruster pack and get to the surface and start freeing the slaves. See if you can get them away from the blast radius." Wraith nodded and quickly detached my thruster pack from my Mech and attached it to his before going to the stairs.

"Ghost, we'll always remember you. Us three will fight and win the war for you."

"I agree with Dozer. I may not have known you very long, but you're the best leader and friend I've ever had. I know that Wraith thinks the same."

"Thanks Dozer, Rhino. Help me sit here," I said. They helped me maneuver my Mech into a sitting position that allowed enough rotation to shoot at whatever comes my way until I blow the bomb.

"Raoul, I've got the bomb set to blow. You only have to say so."

"Go on you two. Get out of here."

"Good luck, old friend," Dozer said before he and Rhino ran to the elevator and left.

A few seconds later, Wraith radioed me. "Ghost, the slaves told me that they will die as soon as the slave collars are off, but as long as they wear the collars, they will be slaves. They also said they will help cover our retreat and give you more time before you set off the bomb. This is their way of saying sorry for the rest of their race attacking us."

"Alright, Wraith. Dozer and Rhino are on their way up. Meet up with them and get as far away as possible."

"Yes sir."

I looked around constantly, always shifting my attention to see if anyone had come in yet. On one glance to my right, I noticed a floor panel near my wasn't set right and part of it was bent slightly up, showing a hole. I reached over and ripped the panel off and paled. "Wraith, Rhino, Dozer. You all need to run as fast as you can and don't stop. The bomb is bigger than we thought. It's at least three times as long. I repeat, run fast and hard and don't stop!"

"Understood," were the three responses.

"Ricky, what is the estimated blast radius and where are Wraith, Dozer, and Rhino in relation to it?"

A map of the area appeared on my HUD with a wide circle and three green arrows facing the same direction and moving towards the edge of the circle.

"The edge of the blast radius is approximately eight point zero four kilometers away. With shrapnel and debris, the radius is about four kilometers further. The rest of the Hunters need three minutes to reach the blast radius. Their armor still has enough strength to protect them on the off chance that shrapnel and debris does hit them. Two minutes thirty seconds and counting," Ricky informed me. A timer appeared on my HUD and the map disappeared.

When the timer hit a minute thirty seconds, a group of Ascendents entered the room and opened fire on me. I shot at them until my HSAM was out of ammo, killing four. I threw it at them, taking out another two in the process, and drew my FiveSeven and began shooting again. The timer hit thirty. I dropped another six when my pistol ran out of ammo. I drew my sword from its sheath and threw it at them, sending the blade in a rotation parallel to the ground. Right as the blade carved seven of them in half, the timer hit zero. I counted to ten in my head, trying to give my team a little more time.

"Ricky, light 'em up."

"It was an honor serving with you," Ricky replied. "The bomb is blowing up. When I hacked their files to gain access to the bomb ignition, I downloaded everything into my own database. Provided we, meaning both of us, survive this, we have enough information to end the war faster if this bomb doesn't. I was proud to be chosen as your A.I. Hopefully, I'll see-"

Whatever he was going to say got cut off. There was a bright flash, temporarily blinding me, followed shortly by a loud BOOM, and I lost consciousness. I hoped that Wraith, Rhino, and Dozer made it away safely and would help end the war. The last thing I saw before losing consciousness the first time, was the initial explosion of the bomb. I think I woke up briefly because I remember seeing the blue sky and tall trees before an impact took my consciousness.

First, my hearing came back. I could hear birds chirping, squirrel chittering, and leaves rustling. Next came my senses of touch and smell. I smelled the fresh air of the outdoors. I could feel that a silky sheet was laying on me up to my chest and I felt a soft surface beneath me, similar to a bed. Then my sense of taste returned and my mouth felt slightly dry. I thought I was dead, before finally, I could see again. I was looking at a wooden ceiling and there was light coming from my right. I turned my head and saw two open doors that led to what looked to be a porch or deck. I looked left and saw a wall with a window. I sat up and the silk sheets fell to my lap, showing that I wasn't wearing a shirt. I pulled the sheets up and looked under them. Thankfully, I was wearing pants.

I slid my legs over to the right side of the bed and sat there. My long hair hung down in my face, telling me that it had been a while since I first lost consciousness. I ran a hand through my hair. It felt clean so someone must have been caring for me. I went to stand, but right as my right foot touched the ground, I thought better of it and returned to my sitting position on the bed. I knew that whoever had been taking care of me would return at some point.

Since I didn't know how long I'd be here, I decided to examine the room in greater detail. The wall that the head of the bed was pointed towards was bare. There was nothing on it, which led me to believe that there may be something on the other side. The opposite wall had a window in it and an armor stand beside the window. My armor was on the armor stand, and the clothes I wore underneath were folded on the ground beside it. There was also a chest, but I wasn't able to see what was in it as I couldn't get to it to open it. The wall to the left of the bed only had a window.

The sound of approaching footsteps drew my attention to the doors. The footsteps weren't very loud, which led me to believe that it was a child or a short person or being. The being that came through the door was not what I was expecting. The being was two meters tall, male, and could have passed himself off as a Caucasian human had it not been for one key feature. This being had wings that resembled a scaled down version of western style dragon wings. His wings were black and folded in on his back, but still showed over his shoulders. He had black hair that came down to his shoulders and a leather arm brace with leaf designs on his right forearm. He seemed pleased that I was awake.

"Ah, you're up. Considering the wounds you had when we found you, we weren't expecting for you to wake for another few weeks. The metal contraption we found you in is still where it landed. I say we found you, but you actually appeared in the sky above our town and crashed into the ground in side the walls. The good thing is that nobody was hurt and nothing was destroyed by the impact. You've been here for four weeks, so when you stand, stay near the bed for a few moments. Change into your clothes and come out here," the being said before leaving.

I slowly stood up and with slightly unsteady legs, I moved to the end of the bed towards my clothes. When I reached the end, I was almost as steady as I use to be and continued past the bed to the wall. I pulled on my jeans, t-shirt, socks, and boots. I decided to leave my armor alone for the moment and looked in the chest to see nothing. Then I walked to the still open doors and walked out into the sunlit porch. The view was amazing.

In the distance, I could see mountains and more trees. In an open area directly in front of me, there were more wooden buildings and many people similar to the one that came in earlier. Not only did they vary in height and hair color, but wing color as well. They had red wings, white wings, black wings, blue wings, and several other colors and shades. In one spot, I could see the remains of my Mech. I could see a river that ran through the town with bridges crossing over it every now and then. In all, it was quite a sight.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?"

I turned to the person that spoke. It was the being that I first saw. He walked over to stand beside me.

"This place has been our home for centuries, and it will remain our home for a long time yet. Our elders and prophets had foreseen your coming and had us prepare this house for you. You are welcome to stay here if you wish."

I shook my head. "I can't. I've got to get back and help end the war. I have vital information that I need to get to my friends."

"Our prophets knew you would want to go back, so they did everything they could to see what happened after you disappeared from your home universe," he said.

"Wait, home universe? I'm in a different universe?" I asked.

He nodded. "That's what our prophets have told us. They searched for a way so that you could return, and when they couldn't find one, they began to look at the present and future of your universe. They found that your friends got away safely. You destroyed the main city of your enemy. The others were just slave colonies for reproduction. Your friends gathered the rest of your unique squads and units and went and saved those slaves and a few of the males that didn't want what the rest of the males did. Your universe is safe and all your friends alive. We did what we could to get a message to them, but we don't know if they received it. We told them that you were alright, but we couldn't find a way to their universe. As I said before, you are welcome to stay here."

I thought a moment. I looked over the town. It seemed peaceful, something I was beginning to want after my time in the war. Then I remembered something and ran back into my room. I grabbed my helmet and put it on. The HUD came up quickly.

"Ricky, Ricky! You there Ricky?!" I asked.

A groan was the initial reply. "I'm here. I've been trying to reach you, but you haven't had your helmet. When you get a chance, I've got some plans on how we can make communication between us easier."

"Then we will work on that later. We can't go back home, so we're going to stay here. I think I'm going to get your help in repairing Ghost and changing the power systems over to something more environmental friendly and available."

"Alright. I'll work on getting some plans together for that."

I walked back outside. "I never got your name or the name of your race."

The being bowed slightly. "My name is Maverick Snyston. You are in Dragonridge, the capital city of the Drakons, my people. You are the first being not a Drakon that has been offered a home here."

"Dragonridge of the Drakons. I like it. I'll be staying here."

He nodded. "Come, I shall show you around the city."

I turned to look over the city again and smiled. I had found a place of peace, a place without conflict, a home.

===Chapter End===