LAST EDITED ON Mar-07-07 AT 08:03 PM (EST)
The Weekly Wedge
"All the Wedge Defense Force News that Fits in Print"
Monday, May 24, 2106
by Walter Pyle
Stavakel Tzvia - If there's a center to the action in the war with Zeon, Stavakel Tzvia, at first glance, appears to be the place it's furthest from, at least if you're still technically within the theater of operations. It's an insignificant jungle moon orbiting one of the gas giants in the Zeons' home system, so strategically unimportant that it doesn't even appear on most operational maps.
The crew of the patrol boat who brought me to this island seem to think something is up, though. As we get closer to the island, they get visibly nervous - not expecting-combat nervous, but like they don't want to be there. When they drop me off, Petty Officer Willie Manx wishes me good luck.
"Be careful in there, man," he says. "Some of those guys are crazy from the heat."
The boat crew laughs as they pull away from the shore and roar off back up the wide, muddy river. Feeling suddenly exposed, I walk away from the beach. There was supposed to be someone here to meet me, but no one seems to be around, so I follow a clearly visible path inland. Just as I reach the trees, I notice a bright plastic banner slung between two trees so that it overlooks the entrance to the jungle path.
WELCOME TO MONSTER ISLAND, it says in big, cheerful letters.
Oookay then, I think.
A few minutes' walking and I've just begun to think I must be lost, or maybe on the wrong island despite the banner, when a guy in a ghillie suit pops out of the underbrush and nearly scares the wits out of me. He aims an M75 rifle at my chest and glares out from under his leaf-festooned boonie hat with wild eyes made all the more stark by the shoe polish smeared on his face.
"Halt!" he barks in a commanding voice. "Who goes there?"
"My name's Wally Pyle," I replied, trying to sound calm as I indicate my press badge. "I'm with The Weekly Wedge. I'm suppose to interview Captain Short."
The guy puts his weapon up and grins broadly. "Shit, is that today? Sorry, buddy. We all thought you were coming Saturday."
"It is Saturday," I point out.
The sentry looks at his watch and grins again. "Shit, so it is," he says. "Sorry. I've been out here since Monday. The days blend together after a while. C'mon, I'll take you into camp."
After another minute or so of walking, I start to hear music filtering through the jungle. A moment later, the sentry leads me around a bend in the trail and we emerge into a clearing about 200 yards across. Heavy, beaty 20th-century rock music is pumping out of some huge speakers set up near the commo shack; it's "Can U Dig It" by Pop Will Eat Itself, playing so loud I don't recognize it until I catch Optimus Prime's name.
Standing in a row along the far side of the clearing are four MHP-02 Mark III Monster Destroids. I've never actually seen a Monster in person before, and words really can't do them justice. It's one thing to read that a machine stands 74 feet tall (more than seven stories!) and weighs 315 tons, and quite another to come out of a jungle path and see four of them standing in front of you. A Monster is considered a full lance of four normal Destroids on a standard organization chart, which means that with four of them, Company E of the Second Battalion, 20th WDF Destroid Regiment, is technically over-strength.
Over the door of the commo shack, between two of the speakers, is another sign. This one has the WDF trefoil and says "WELCOME TO FIRE BASE TANGO (Here Be Monsters)". All around the clearing, men and women in the jumpsuits of Destroid personnel - most pulled half-down and tied around the waist by the sleeves - seem to be having a party. The Monsters are connected by improvised walkways lashed between the long barrels of their 16-inch naval guns and have what appear to be tents or collapsible howdahs erected on their upper decks, over the cannons' breeches. There are people up there with hibachis. One of the huge Destroids has what looks like a full-service bar on top.
I walk up to one of the partying people - he's wearing the cap of a senior Destroid technician - and ask where I might find Captain Short.
"I believe Captain Short is up on the mezzanine at the moment," he replies, pointing to the howdah on top of the Monster furthest to the left.
It takes me a few minutes to figure out the system of chain ladders, jury-rigged ramps, and plank bridges and actually reach the top of Short's Monster. On the way up, I notice that, in addition to the usual jungle-green paint and standard markings, Short's has a name (Aonghas MacCnagCnag), tartan-like striping on the upper legs, and a public service notice on the back ("HOW'S MY ANNIHILATING? 1-800-CALL-WDF").
On top of Aonghas MacCnagCnag, I find Captain Marlon Short, the company commander. He's a peppery little New Caledonian with a burr you could cut concrete with and a cheerful disposition. His men call him "Shorty", and he's the undisputed master of ceremonies up here. He and the rest of Aonghas's crew, Sergeant Joe Rankin and Corporal Ellie Vultaggio, are grilling up burgers and sausages on a row of hibachis fueled with plastic explosive.
"It burrrns wi' a nice even flaame if ye laigh' it right," Shorty explains.
I start explaining to Shorty that I'm here to interview him as part of our staff profiles series, but he waves it off and says there'll be plenty of time for that later - for now, have soomthin tae eat. After heaping a couple of plates with burgers and some nicely grilled ribs, he takes me across a wobbly plank bridge to the adjoining MHP-02, Horchata. Here, Lieutenant Parker Mendoza presides over a fully stocked bar. I don't ask where they got all the liquor. There must be 20,000 credits' worth up here.
"Welcome to Monster Island, amigo," Mendoza says, handing me an Asrial Pale Ale.
Most of the other Monster crewmen, and a good many of the company's support techs and HQ personnel, are up here, sitting around crate tables on cable spools and lounge chairs, noisily enjoying themselves. They greet me as if I'm some kind of conquering hero. They all want me to sit with them. Shorty deftly leads me through the crowd to a table in the middle and introduces me to the crew of the #3 Monster in the company, Yamato.
Lieutenant Hayashi Hashimoto and his two crewmen, gunner Sergeant Michiko Takahashi and driver Private Yoshi Tsubura, are all Japanese, all impeccably uniformed (unlike anyone else here), and all outstandingly drunk. This is a little nervous-making, since they have swords and pistols. Takahashi, in particular, is surrounded by most of a regiment of spent saké canisters and is wobbling slowly back and forth in her seat, staring with unabashed lust at one of the armaments technicians at a nearby table. He grins nervously back.
They party hard, these Monster Men. I try to remain an uninvolved observer, but it's not really possible. There's too much beer, too much conversation, too much loud music. It was only a little after noon when I arrived, and they seem to be gearing up to go all night.
There's a man in dark grey CVR-3 over in the corner, nursing a light beer and looking a little nervous. His helmet's sitting on the table in front of him, so I can see that he's completely bald and has a bull neck. He tells me his name is Machowicz, and he's not a member of E Company; rather, he's a Shadow Squad trooper who was sent to deliver some critical intel to Captain Short. He's heading back into the wilderness to rejoin his unit in the morning. A very professional guy like all the Shadow types, he seems to disapprove of the Monster Men's lifestyle and envy it at the same time.
When I put this to him, though, he shakes his head. "No, I don't grudge them their party," he says. "They'll earn it tomorrow."
An hour or so later, as night begins to fall, Shorty calls everybody to order and makes a remarkable speech in his rock-cutting burr.
"All right, lads an' lasses. Ye all knoow soomethin's op, an' noow I'm gaunnae tell ye wha' i' is. Our friend from th' Shadow Squad brough' me our new orrrders this mornin', an' now we knoow why we're here. Seems th' factory whar th' Zeons build their Zaku Destroids is on this wee moon, an' th' Shadows found ou' t'other day whare i' is. An' tamorra, we're off tae bloow i' op."
A great cheer goes up from the Monster Men. Hashimoto and his crewmates stand up very straight, raise both hands in the air like turfball referees announcing a touchdown, and yell at the top of their lungs,
"BANZAI! BANZAI! BANZAI!"
"So we've 'ad our fon, an' noow it's taime tae get some rest," Shorty declares. "Tae yer boonks, the lo' o' ye, an' divil take t'hindmost!"
Seized by an impulse I can't explain, I go up to Short as his men disperse and say, "Take me with you on your mission."
He raises an eyebrow. "I thowt ye war here tae interview me for soome fluff piece," he remarks.
"I was," I admit, "but I've never seen a Monster in action."
He considers this for a second, then says, "All ri', faine. Ye can ride wi' Dooglas an' her crew tamorra."
Most of the Monster crews sleep aboard their machines. Machowicz and I bunk with the technicians in one of the prefab shelters at their feet. The next morning, the camp is a hive of activity as the crewmen and techs - none appearing any the worse for wear after the party - dismantle all the stuff attached to the Monsters, the howdahs and ramps and what have you. It's like watching the crew of an 18th-century sailing vessel clear the decks for action.
Machowicz puts on his CVR and climbs onto his Shadow Cyclone. "You sure you want to go with these guys?" he asks me.
I nod. "Sounds more interesting than what I was supposed to be doing."
He grins slightly. "Well, good luck to you," he says. "I don't know how they do it. You wouldn't get me strapped into one of those things in combat. I like to be out where I can see what's going on." He thumbs a control, and he and his Cyclone disappear as the shadow cloak kicks in - everything but, rather disturbingly, his face, since the visor of his helmet is still open. "See you," he says, then shuts the helmet and vanishes entirely. I hear the Cyclone's powerplant kick over and see the slightest flicker of his outline as he rides off into the jungle.
Shorty comes over and leads me down to the fourth Monster in the line. This one has black pinstripes and a large cross motif on the side, and down one of the outboard cannon barrels in large block letters it says "YO WATCH THE BEAT". More writing in that Germano-Gothic heavy metal font near the beast's bulldog prow gives what is apparently its name: The First Föur Black Sabbath Albums.
Lieutenant Lana Douglas is the commander of The First Föur Black Sabbath Albums, and like her ride, she's totally metal - long jet-black hair, eye makeup, the whole shmeer. She and her crew, Sergeant Eli Korben, gunner, and Private Oswald Mayfield, driver, wear black leather jackets over their coveralls and have attached Pickelhaube spikes to their Mark IV helmets. They throw the horns in greeting and seem happy to have my company on the mission.
Captain Short assembles his crews in front of Aonghas MacCnagCnag to deliver the preliminary rundown on where they're going and when. The crew of Yamato are wearing their full-dress uniforms, complete with white gloves and hats. When the briefing-cum-pep-talk is over, they do their Banzai! Banzai! Banzai! routine again, then sprint to their Monster's boarding stairs like the Destroid is their treehouse and school just let out. I notice for the first time that Yamato's tech crew have secured a tall pole to the Destroid's back and fitted it with a gigantic red samurai banner, the top of which towers at least 15 stories above the ground. I follow Douglas and her crew to The First Föur Black Sabbath Albums and we clamber up to the cockpit.
The cockpit of a Monster is a little like the bridge of a Predator-class scoutship. It's surprisingly spacious, with the pilot and gunner sitting side-by-side in front and the commander up on a small dais behind, and holographic monitors all around them. Douglas pops down a small jump seat behind Korben's gunnery station and tells me to enjoy the ride. Fusion reactors rumble to life and the ground trembles as 1,240 tons of machinery moves out.
There is little to compare with riding a Monster on the march. It's a smooth ride; the machines have suspension as massive as the rest of them, and their huge, wide feet give them surprisingly low ground pressure. I can't really convey the feeling of invincibility it provides to crash through dense jungle, the kind of jungle that would severely hamper even light infantry, watching trees fall on the monitors. Monsters can only go about 20 miles per hour, but they don't slow down for much of anything. And Machowicz was wrong about one thing: the view from in here is pretty good. The monitors show a lot. Mayfield tells me the techs are working on a full-surround holographic system that will scrub away the armored cockpit walls and reveal everything for 360 degrees around the machine.
We walk for hours, smashing relentlessly through everything in our path, then abruptly burst out of the trees and find ourselves on a rocky crag overlooking an expanse of wide-open grassland. In the distance, just visible as a hazy smudge against the base of some mountains about 15 miles away, is a settlement of some sort, dominated by several large, low buildings. Mayfield adjusts a few controls and magnifies the image, revealing an industrial complex surrounded by a chain link fence. Humanoid Destroids walk patrol patterns along the fence.
"Well, there it is," Douglas says.
"That's the factory?" I ask.
"According to what the guy from Shadow Squad told Shorty, yeah." She sits back in her command chair, her leather jacket creaking, and grins. "Looks like some J-model Zakus on perimeter defense. They have such pathetic radar sets they don't even know we're here."
"All units, this is Aonghas MacCnagCnag," the voice of Short's gunner, Sergeant Rankin, announces crisply over the comm. (He pronounces it oonish mac CRRNNNNaghCRNNNagh.) "Shadow Squad is designating targets. Set your targeting systems to laser slave mode and prepare to fire."
Korben grins and plies his instruments. Behind us, something shudders and groans as massive pumps start directing liquid propellant into the breeches of the Monster's four colossal rifles. The hull vibrates as massive motors elevate the guns and adjust the positioning of the main body. On the monitor to my left, I can see Horchata going through the same evolutions. A Monster is effectively a walking battleship turret. At range, these four have firepower roughly equivalent to a pair of the Iowa-class vessels used by the United States during Earth's Second World War.
"Targets selected an' locked," comes Shorty's voice. "Right, lads. COMMENCE FIRE!"
From inside the cabin, the noise is less than I was expecting; the vehicles are very heavily buffered so that their crews don't risk hearing loss. Outside, though, the sound alone must be devastating. I feel my seat shift beneath me. On the monitor, I can see Horchata skid backward nearly a full footlength as all four of its guns go off at once, spitting gigantic tongues of fire into the sky. In the background, the outermost trees of the jungle fringe sway and buckle just from the shockwave.
Behind me, I can hear huge mechanisms whose workings I can't begin to fathom selecting fresh shells from the magazines and ramming them into the guns; then the propellant pumps start again. Within 10 seconds, The First Föur Black Sabbath Albums unleashes a second broadside, as do all its brothers. Horchata's feet are dug in and firmly braced now; the machine doesn't move again as it hurls another eight tons of steel, depleted dalekenium, and high explosive downrange.
A short time later, the first shells start arriving. Explosions bloom out of buildings as the two-ton projectiles smash everything in their path. The Zakus on patrol around the perimeter look around and start milling about in clear disarray as things explode around them. Suddenly, a colossal fireball erupts out of what had been a low concrete structure off to one side.
"Holy Christ, did you see that secondary?" comes the voice of Parker Mendoza. "That must've been their ammo bunker. Nice shot, Yamato!"
"Domo arigato gozaimasu, Mendoza-san!" replies Takahashi in a breathlessly excited squeak.
Within two minutes, the Monsters have fired a combined total of almost 200 shells into the complex. Short orders a cease-fire. The factory area is a smoking, cratered moonscape. There's almost no indication that any man-made structures were ever there.
Except for the Zakus. Like hornets maddened by the smashing of their nest, they're running across the grassy plain at full speed, punctuating their strides with great jet-assisted bounding leaps. It didn't take them long to see where the bombardment was coming from.
"Luiks lak we're gaunnae have some coompany," Short says, sounding unconcerned. "Monsters, prepare tae defend yuirselves."
Here is the major drawback of the Monster's massive size and armament. The Destroid's massive size and slow speed make it an easy target. Its main weapons, being heavy artillery, are almost impossible to use against small, fast-moving targets like medium Destroids and armored vehicles. It is armed with a few self-defense weapons - each slab arm mounts a trio of heavy lasers - and its armor is very strong, but still: when Monsters are destroyed in combat, it's usually either by taking fire from enemy ships, or by being overrun and eventually pounded to death by smaller, nimbler foes.
This time they all make it back. Expert gunnery accounts for several of the Zakus; some of the others flee and the rest are dealt with by the Shadow Squad, which arrives with lighter support equipment a few minutes into the engagement. Within a few hours, the Monsters of Company E are back on Monster Island, where their DropShips have arrived and wait to carry them back to the Daedalus.
"Aye, tha's th' life of a Monster jock," Shorty agrees as we leave orbit and head for home. "Days an' days o' waitin' aroound an' a few minutes o' action - bu' it's action tha' can change th' coourse o' th' war. Whenever a Monster fires its guns, ye knoow it's a potential matter o' victory or defeat." He grins and slaps me on the shoulder. "Now, aboot tha' fluff interview ye wanted."
Walter Pyle is a staff correspondent for The Weekly Wedge. He recently request a transfer to front-line combat reporting.
"Living Large" - a Golden Age Mini-Story by Benjamin D. Hutchins
Special to the Eyrie Productions Discussion Forum
Concept developed with Chad Collier
Gàidhlig consultant Janice Barlow
© 2007 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited