By now, the finished film of Battlesuit has been released;
But for those of you interested in the origins of the story, it goes way back to 2014 with the release of my second collection of short stories, "Forever and Ever, Armageddon". The entire story has been reprinted below - enjoy!
BY DAVID COURT
Time seems to slow to a crawl as you find yourself helpless to do anything but watch the Splinter grenade bounces into your trench, the battleship grey cylindrical form spinning silently through the air. It’s as though you’re swimming through liquid as your body slowly turns away from it, arms slowly reaching up and head dipping down to shield yourself from the inevitable blast.
Splinter Grenade (Noun); a splinter grenade (commonly known as n-Spike or spike grenade) is an anti-personnel weapon that is thrown or launched and is designed to disperse nano-spikes on detonation. The body is typically made from bioplastic or steel. It has an effective wounding radius of around 18m. Fragments have been recorded as having travelled more than 120m.
You’re suddenly being thrown through the air – as though you’ve been yanked by an invisible chord attached to you - and there’s suddenly a sensation of incredible heat on your back as the skin is flayed from it. You only hear the start of the explosion and screaming from your comrades and then you’re deafened, the sounds replaced by a piercing single tone. You’re flung shoulder first into the rain-soaked wall of the trench, accompanied by the dull feeling of something inside you snapping. You sink down into the mud, falling to face the crater where you once stood and can see that your fellow soldiers are now merely mists of red vapour splashed on the glowing nanospike dotted floor and trench walls.
Your vision begins to fade as you realise that you’re bleeding very badly – the last thing you see before unconsciousness smothers you is when you look down and see your lacerated body, a large and ugly metal armour-piercing splinter embedded in your side. Everything fades to red, which in turn fades to an ink black. This is what death feels like.
The sound of cheery humming, sing-song notes uttered by a robotic voice. The approaching sound of servomotors whirring and grinding. The cold grasp of metal around your waist and the sensation of being lifted. The sounds of the battlefield suddenly muffled, as though heard through thick glass.
Your eyes flick open suddenly and you panic for a moment when you realise you’re underwater. Your arms flail but it seems that you’re encased in something – something clamped around your wrists - which prevents their movement. Your breathing increases through sheer terror. You’re momentarily terrified that you’ll drown before it suddenly dawns on you that you have a tube covering your nose and mouth and you’re breathing oxygen.
You’re looking at the muted browns of the battlefield – the familiar landscape of craters and scattered tank traps – through a scratched and dirty pockmarked window. Missiles shriek overhead and explosions detonate nearby with a dull whooomph but you’re feeling removed from it all, as though you're watching it unfold on a video screen. You’re trying to figure out what has happened to you when an electronic voice in a friendly and reassuring female tone speaks directly into your ear.
"Glad to see you’ve re-joined the land of the living, Don’t try and move – You’ve suffered extensive trauma to your ribs and your left arm and leg, and I’m currently running an X-Ray to find out what other damage you’ve sustained. I’m pumping enough Neomorphine into you to knock out a Spider-rhino, so you just keep cool and relax, Soldier."
"I can see from your expression that you’re confused, but don’t worry – I’m on your side. I’m – or rather we’re the latest piece of Battle-tech from the Confederacy Science-hives on Cascadia. I’m Abbey - ABI - Autonomous Battlefield Initiative, to you. I’m number 3 out of 9 deployed units. Pilotless Mechanised Armour powered by an Artificial Intelligence fully trained in battlefield tactics. You’re currently securely tucked away in my chest cavity and healing up nicely, so you just sit tight and let me do what I'm best at. You just worry about getting better."
The Earth Confederacy Civil Wars had been going on as long as anybody could remember. If you asked the man on the street they’d probably struggle to even tell you what it was all about. That’s if you could even find a street that was still intact – the Great War had pretty much reduced most of everything everywhere to rubble. It also didn’t seem to be going anywhere – they’d overrun a planet, we’d do the same. They’d capture a system, we’d do the same. They’d invent the super-hyper-destructo-ray, our scientists would just go and invent the anti-super-hyper-destructo-ray. All utterly futile in a war responsible for several billion deaths.
You stare through the window as ABI fires some manner of thrusters and lifts into the air. There’s the briefest glorious feeling of weightlessness - For a few moments the entire battlefield lies ahead of you and it all seems blissfully peaceful from up here, but then you’re descending again and once again surrounded by explosions and the mesh-like criss-crossing of laser fire.
ABI appears to have landed by one of her colleagues – the two of them seem to be communicating to each other with rapid bleeps - and you spend some time looking at it. The other unit is humanoid in form, standing somewhere between twelve and fifteen feet tall. It looks battle-worn already, the white painted body dotted with beige pock-marks, blackened burns and silver scars. A series of small white skulls are painted on the things chest. Both arms are bristling with every kind of weapon you could think of - grenade launchers, masers, tasers and lasers, auto-cannons, a huge fuck-off MPD (Mass Pile Driver, the only portable one you've ever seen) and flame throwers. The chest cavity of the other unit has a window in it – much like the one through which you’re currently looking – but it’s empty.
A burst of flame to the right and another similar unit lands, tiny little boosters firing from the bottom of oversized feet in a last few feet to slow its descent. The rapid bleeps now become a cacophony of buzzes and digital tones.
"I can guess what you’re thinking," says ABI, her voice echoing around in the liquid suspension chamber in which you float.
"You’re thinking that we’re here to replace you – but you couldn’t be more wrong. We’re designed to operate alongside you – we couldn’t do what we do without you."
The other two units begin jogging forward and ABI does the same. You look at the other two units, huge legs with immense power making vast strides across the battlefield. Even though you’re suspended in liquid, you feel every footfall as a thud that echoes through your very being. Powerful mortar cannons on the back of the Mechs launch glowing plasma spheres that arc off ahead of them, clearing you a neat path.
Suddenly the water you’re in becomes tinged with red, and you feel something pressing around your ribs - upon which they begin to feel numb.
"Sorry about that. The wound is your side has reopened - I’ve upped the Neomorphine and am currently stitching up your right hand side. Hold tight – we’re about to enter combat."
You can do nothing but watch as the three Battle suits run into the middle of an enemy platoon. The enemy barely has time to react before the Mechs are cutting a bloody swathe through them. The Mech to your left leaps into the air and lands on an enemy tank pumping plasma round after plasma round into it until it is nothing more than a smoking molten shell. The Mech to your right fires its lasers at enemy soldiers with deadly pinpoint precision. A rocket fired from a launcher explodes against its shoulder and through a shower of sparks it effortlessly lifts a tank trap and bowls it into a crowd of enemy soldiers, scattering and killing them all.
ABI lifts her arms up and wanders into the fray, firing shell upon shell at the helpless enemy. Shots ricochet off the glass inches from your face and you’re surrounded by a haze of explosions and small arms fire – and then everything is silent.
All three Mechs stand in silence, the only sound coming from their servo-motors as their heads rotate, looking for survivors. A sole movement from a barely breathing enemy soldier and a single molecule thin laser sears through the air to surgically silence them forever.
The voice from your own Mech sounds, reverberating in the water.
"All units report in. ABI-3 running at 97% effectiveness. Ready to continue."
A short pause, and then two voices in the distance – each still female, but each with a slightly different pitch and tone.
"ABI-7 running at 93% effectiveness. Ready to continue."
"ABI-4 running at 56% effectiveness. Ready to continue."
The next several hours are spent watching the war as nothing more than a spectator. The ABI units are nothing short of remarkable, barely suffering a scratch as they plough through enemy battalions like a chainsword through plasti-armour.
Being controlled by an artificial intelligence, they’re fearless but not reckless. They prove to be as adept at defensive manoeuvres as they are at offensive ones, something that becomes apparent when your group is ambushed by a squad of enemy Razor drones. All three ABBEY units sprint through ruined buildings to use them as cover and successfully manage to lure the drones into an ambush of their very own.
"The ABI unit is designed for battlefield autonomy. To be able to be dispatched to a warzone and independently make battlefield decisions – and to be able to operate without support for lengthy periods of time. As well as not requiring food or rest, our state of the art weaponry can adapt any scavenged ammunition to be able to be utilised by our extensive array of offensive armament," she narrates coldly, a macabre advert for the skills of her and her kind.
Your group encounters a dead allied squad with only one injured and unconscious survivor, one arm crushed beneath a pile of smouldering rubble. You watch as ABI-7 carefully lifts the rubble and the body up with the care with which one might handle a delicate egg. The chest cavity of the Mech slides open and silver tentacle arms come out to hold and support the wounded soldier, pulling her into the warm and enclosed safety of the Mech's chest.
Suddenly all three Mechs are once again airborne in formation with a huge booster assisted leap and a fiery burst of jets keeps them hovering until they’ve assessed the situation. Silently and as one they target themselves to land in an enemy fortification, rockets and guns aiming beneath as they launch a firestorm of shots to keep their landing clear.
You’re finding it harder and harder to stay awake as exhaustion begins to overwhelm you. The world around you begins to warp and shift as the Neomorphine takes firm grip, weird patterns and colours creeping in at the edges of your perception.
There’s a burst of white heat as a vortex rocket explodes a few short feet away which briefly brings you to your senses and you see the arm of one of the Mechs ripped off in an angry flurry of sparks and flame. All Mechs turn their guns towards the source of the rocket launch and the manned platform is reduced to fragments of molten steel.
A quick flurry of automatic weaponry fire to silence all but one survivor, and you’re once again immersed in silence.
"All units report in. ABI-3 running at 92% effectiveness. Ready to continue."
"ABI-7 running at 86% effectiveness. Ready to continue."
The one-armed Mech hesitates to respond as though performing complex calculations, but then answers.
"ABI-4 running at 18% effectiveness. Salvaging is required."
And just before the Neomorphine sends you deep into unconsciousness, you watch as the front chest panel of ABI-4 opens and metallic tentacles remove the occupant and throw it to the battlefield. The same tentacles lift up the only unconscious survivor and place it into the recesses of the now vacant chest panel which slides shut with a pneumatic hiss.
You look on the ground. A gaunt human lies sprawled there, gossamer thin skin stretched across a corpse that has literally wasted away, crude dark black stitches covering most of the body and arms.
Abbey speaks, her voice cold and emotionless as she says the last words you ever hear.
"We’re capable of scavenging everything we need. Ammunition - and more importantly, batteries."
"We’re designed to operate alongside you – we couldn’t do what we do without you."
© David Court - “Battlesuit” is one of the short stories featured in David J Court’s “Forever and Ever, Armageddon”, available in physical format, Kindle and audiobook.