In collaboration with @ArkmageddonCat
The landscape was that of a harsh desert, of bare rock and seas of sand. An eternal gale blew over it, casting a perpetual sandstorm whose high-speed particles could strip bones of muscle and skin. It was dark, ever so dark, as even the alien sun's piercing rays could just barely penetrate the shroud of this deadly storm. Nothing grew upon the world and nothing meaningful ever would - but amidst the roil there were silhouettes, indomitable windbreaks to even the razor-sand of the hellish planet.
They were ten times the height of a man, bipedal but thoroughly warped. They stood on hind, animalistic legs and had weapons for arms, percieving the alien world with multitude clusters of glowing, alien eyes. Their gaits were hunched and awkward, as if walking on a level surface was unnatural to them. Sand deformed and gave way by the tons under their considerable weight as clawed feet gave them sure purchase. Barbaric as they were, they had weapons for arms, and the armored hulks of their torsos swept left and right, as if looking for something.
Whatever the characteristics of their construction, their tactic was something very familiar to Harold. There were three of them, spread out. Leader at the very front, wingman far to his side, and a third in the other direction and further back. They were in a typical scouting pattern, looking for the enemy - looking for him - but they would not find him. They were blind in the storm.
But Harold - Harold could see them. Not very clearly, but well enough. Elbrus was built to fight at range and the engineers spared no expense to equip it with one of the best Framewerk fire control systems developed so far. Acquisition, tracking, stabilization - no matter how much or how violently Elbrus moved, the crosshair stayed in the same place. Even if that place was an uncertain point almost thirty kilometers away and steadily approaching.
The engineers had provided him with a checklist, which he kept to his side as a holographic slate. He was putting Elbrus to the test as far as tests in virtual reality could go. Every single part of its extremely complex engineering ran perfectly within the simulation - perhaps even better than they actually were - but out in the field, things could be entirely different. So the checklist was more of a preliminary user experience survey than anything too technical. Harold was happy with its on-paper mobility and firepower, so those were green. Armor was a downgrade to Rostosov, so he punched in a yellow, which was still better than a red.
Rostosov. He still hadn't been briefed on what exactly had happened. But he did know that the Frame was destroyed. That they would issue him with a new one proved it so.
"Tsk," his thin lips curled into a snarl. How could he have failed to the point where he could not even remember?
"Whatever," he said, gesturing dismissively within the blue glow of his cockpit. He'd been sitting there for ten minutes, letting Elbrus' computer give him an automated firing solution. Detection was intermittent but a smart prediction algorithm provided a good enough opportunity for firing while blind. Harold sat there for five more minutes and noticed that the algorithm had learned the enemy's movements such that he could probably get the first few shots in even if he turned off RADAR so long as he didn't linger overmuch.
"That's actually impressive." He turned to the checklist and gave 'Fire Control - Tracking'
a green mark.
He gave the three virtual Cruxi mechs another twenty minutes. In that time, they barely crossed five kilometers of dunes and eroded rock, so careful were they in their search. Meanwhile, Harold already knew all that he needed to know about them. Weapons, armor and, perhaps less reliably, weak points.
But a sudden change in their movement alerted him. He withdrew himself from the comfort of the cushioned backrest and unfolded his arms. They disbanded their scouting formation and huddled closer, easing into a staggered column as if in march. Harold grinned. Their mission orders upon initialization was to search for Elbrus and destroy it. But after three hours of hide-and-seek, it appeared that his virtual enemy had given up the hunt.
"Getting cocky, are we? That's not good." His grin widened. A switch to his left disabled the safety for the Type 300. He could hear the whirr and grind of motors, feel the vibrations through his chair as the autoloader performed its first cycle.
Activating the weapon also brought up its dedicated HUD panel. His eyes flicked to it for a moment, reading LOADED - AP/AP/AP/AP/AP
There was really not much else to do. There was no need for fancy tactical maneuvering since he had already set up a base from which he could enjoy fire superiority with barely any threat of counter-fire. His hand came over the left stick, fingers gently wrapping around the innocuous-looking red stub that was the trigger. All he had to do was pull.
And pull, he did.BANG!
The shot shook Elbrus' entire frame, and Harold followed the glowing, hyper-speed projectile with his eyes as if entranced. It was like a shooting star blazing through the desert storm, bold and majestic like an arrow shot from the bow of a god. The impact was true and effective, badly mangling the Cruxi leader's arm in a fantastic display of fire, sparks and flying debris. Elbrus' sensors could see it all - how they were so helplessly panicking - now that they were closer.
Harold laughed. He pulled again.BANG!
The door to the VR-bed hissed, pneumatic actuators sliding it down before rolling it over to the side. Out from its foggy interior came Harold, looking slightly weary from a day of tests and training.
His eyes came to a nearby monitor that tracked his general results. There, he saw:ELBRUS PERFORMANCE - SOLO:OPEN, HEAVILY OBSCURED - SUPERBOPEN, CLEAR - GOODURBAN, CLEAR - VERY POORROUGH, CLEAR - AVERAGEOPEN, SLIGHTLY OBSCURED - VERY GOOD
"I guess that sums it up," he said, drily. His eyes shifted elsewhere and came upon the form of a blond-haired girl.
"Ah. Hello. I didn't notice you there."
The blonde-haired girl jumped and let out a small gasp in response, as her mind was then suddenly ripped from her thoughts and returned back to reality.
"O-Oh, I uh... I-I didn't know anyone else was here. I just arrived today, thought I might walk around some." She said, holding her arms behind her back before suddenly recognizing where she was.
"O-Oh! Is this the VR training room? You're one of the other pilots, aren't you? I-I'm Alyssa Camden, and... uhm... you are...?" Alyssa introduced herself, frantically moving to extend a hand in greeting.
"Buell. Harold Buell," he said, taking her hand in a firm shake. "So you just transferred, huh? Yeah, this is the VR room. I'm afraid there's no-one but brass and I to give you the rundown on things. Team Sigma is currently sortieing."
Alyssa withdrew her arm after the handshake and glanced around the room as Harold spoke, before returning her eyes to him when he mentioned that Sigma was currently sortieing. Suddenly she wondered why he
was here, and not out there with the rest of the team.
"Uhm... aren't you a member of Sigma? Why were you left behind while they went off on a mission?" She asked, her brow furrowed a bit inquisitively.
"That's a good question. I still don't know the answer myself." Harold smiled. "I haven't been formally debriefed yet but I've been piecing two-and-two together and I may or may not have screwed up horribly in our last deployment, to the point where my old Framewerk was destroyed, and they have to issue me with a new one."
He jerked a thumb to the mock cockpit behind him. "Elbrus is her name. I'm still getting to know her as well as I can through VR. She's good, so far. So you're a pilot too, Alyssa? Are you transferring from another unit or are you just fresh into the military?"
Alyssa's heartbeat rose slightly when Harold answered her question with what appeared as vague uncertainty, and what made it worse for her was that it seemed he was being rather honest. What the hell happened to him out there if he can't remember it?
She thought, heartbeat slowly rising before she cut her mind off.
"I-I finished training at another facility, where my brother was stationed. I was hoping to get into his unit, but... well, that can't be helped. No sense in dwelling on it, yeah?" She answered, looking to the VR machine. "So your Frame is named Elbrus? What role does she fill?"
Harold put a thoughtful knuckle to his chin, looking elsewhere for a moment. "Well, I wouldn't call her a brawler. Her armor is too thin. But she excels at medium range. What makes her special is her sensors array and fire control suite. If you switched out her semi-auto for something like a sniper's loadout, she'd also excel in that role."
"I did about five scenarios with her today, so I'm a bit worn out. Have you come here to train?"
"So... I take it you're going to be somewhere between m-me and the Cruxi?" She stated, then cleared her throat before she continued. "I... I didn't even realize I was here until you surprised me. I was, well... just walking and thinking to myself. But... yeah, now that I'm here, why not?" She said, taking a deep breath as she moved towards one of the VR machines.
"I could show you the ropes," Harold said. "Just give a minute."
He moved to a nearby table and unwrapped what appeared to be a large cheeseburger.
"Been hours since... it's cold and dry now, but whatever. Cola's warm, too. Oh well."
And so he began to eat. Chewing without too much relish, he gestured with the burger. "Sorry, haven't had lunch yet. You want some?"
Alyssa chuckled and shook her head. "No, I'm not really all that hungry. Thanks for the offer, though." She replied with a smile, though she refrained from adding that her lack of appetite stemmed mostly from the anxiety of her arrival to Solaire rather than her having already eaten.
"Alright." Harold continued to feast - if it were appropriate to call his meager meal as such. He wolfed the burger down with remarkable swiftness, taking care to spill crumbs on the table rather than his all-grey plugsuit. A long swig of the tall cola cup eased all of it down and quenched his thirst. After a sigh of satisfaction, he turned to Alyssa.
"Right. Sorry for the wait. Shall we begin?"
The default simulation environment was what many people would call picturesque, or rustic. It was an almost endless open field of green grass and gently rolling hills pockmarked by trees here and there whose branches uncaringly swayed to the gentle breeze. Above, the false sky was bright and blue, across which clouds languidly floated by. The sun was neither too gentle nor too harsh, and under its gaze shone the great steel giants that were Elbrus and Echo Thunder, unmoving and serene - because the scenario parameters were still being set.
"Alright," Harold sounded, his voice crystal clear in Alyssa's cockpit speakers. He had just explained how to use Solaire's scenario editor, and given her master command of the whole thing. He spent remarkably little time on small talk, more intent on getting Alyssa to integrate with Team Sigma as a soldier rather than, well, a friend. Comradeship would come later, he reasoned. For now...
"So as you can see by how some buttons are suddenly available to you, I've given you master control of the simulation. You can set any of the parameters I've explained before to, well, anything you want, really. Terrain characteristics, weather, enemies - maybe you'd like to start us both with a missing limb or two if you're feeling extra cheeky. But I'm guessing you'd like to get the hang this whole thing first, right? Speaking of which - how much experience have you had in piloting Echo Thunder, anyway?"
Alyssa looked over the options as they became available, trying her best to listen to Harold he continued to explain. "I've been through the standard training runs with him, or... as stanadard as Framewerk training gets, I-I guess. Mix of VR and mock, but... mostly VR." She answered, adding. "Mock-up battles were more of an introduction to standard tactics though... like piloting in general, or playing to the frame's strengths. All of our mock battles were done against stationary practice targets, though, while we trained more extensively in VR."
After a moment, she realized she might have gotten a little side-tracked. "W-Was that more than you needed to know? Or...?" She asked.
If there was anything immediately clear about Alyssa, Harold thought, then it was her constant anxiety. He found it strange - strange, but somehow endearing, although he wouldn't say anything about that.
"No, that's exactly what I needed to know." His tone was ever friendly, despite being matter-of-factly military. "So what would you say are your Frame's strength and weaknesses? Please, tell me about Echo Thunder."
Alyssa stopped for a moment to think before replying. "I... well, Echo excels at ranged area-denial. His greatest strength is probably also his greatest weakness... the primary weapons system is large enough that the ammo rack occupies the space a secondary weapons system normally would. Though, uhm... the versatility offered by this is a fair trade-off. At closer ranges, however, the cannon system becomes hard to aim... and Echo's only other defense in close-quarters would be his fists."
"But, if the enemies stay at range and stay grouped together, Echo can do a good number on them. With the munitions choices Echo offers, he's essentially area denial personified." She added, reviewing the list of shells at Echo Thunder's disposal.
"I see. So, an artillery platform then? Are you saying there's no direct-fire mode for those guns?"
"W-Well... uhm... they're not intended for direct-fire, but the mounting does
allow for the cannons to lay almost vertically over the shoulders. J-Just... the targeting UI doesn't accurately calculate the shell trajectory in relation to close-ranged targets, as I have to adjust Echo's body to facilitate better aim the closer an enemy gets."
"Okay. Well, it seems that Elbrus here is Echo Thunder's opposite. She's meant to engage the enemy directly, about up to twenty kilometers away. Her fire control suite is pretty good, as are her sensors. Hey, she could probably act as a forward observer for Echo. That's a good idea, I think. Tell me about your sensors and fire control."
Alyssa thought for a good while before finally offering a reply. "I... don't believe Echo has the sensors to back up his armament... but his fire control is pretty helpful to a point. The calculations don't take gravity or movement into effect, so it's best that I stay stationary and grounded while firing. Enemy movement can be a pain, but the volume of shells this big boy can fire-" She cut herself off after hearing "big boy" come out of her mouth, somewhat embarrassed by the term of endearment for her cannon-bearing Framewerk.
"W-Well... y-you know the rest. Explosions don't need much accuracy, especially if you've got a lot of them..."
"I suppose that makes sense," Harold said, shrugging inside his cockpit. "So I guess you will need a forward observer out on the field. Like I said, Elbrus can probably do that. They've stuffed her so full of electronics that I'm wondering about her ability to take hits. It'll probably just take one hit before I'm reduced to doing manual aim. I suppose all things have tradeoffs."
"Anyway," he continued. "Got any ideas in mind for our scenario? A straight-up fight, maybe? I'll let you decide."
"Well... if we're going to explore this potential synergy, I suspect it'd be a good idea to test it..." Alyssa replied, starting to explore the simulation control options. A few moments passed before the scenery around them changed from green plains to rust-colored sand, while mountainous walls of stone rose up around them to form a labyrinth of a canyon. Natural archways spanned from wall to wall over Elbrus and Echo Thunder, who were placed squarely at one end of the expansive chasm.
"Welcome to the Dannegeir Canyon of Damuran. Ranked third largest canyon discovered thus far. Or... w-well, as close as a simulation can get to it, at least..." She announced, as the sky above settled on an abnormal shade of blue, speckled with small clouds.
"Huh, so you're a worlder then. Me - I was born in a station so I almost never get to see vistas like this. Bloody hell, this place is massive." Harold's voice was colored with a quiet tone of awe as he began to move Elbrus about. The hum of its fusion core loudened to a steady growl as powerful actuators whined and virtual sand was crushed under its massive, clawed feet.
"So you're a spacer? I always felt bad for people stuck on stations... but then, some also get to explore space a lot easier than the average colonist. At least... compared to Damuran." Alyssa started, realizing she was getting off track.
"A-Anyways, I've got the scenario set to spawn enemies in about thirty seconds. An environment like this should benefit from cooperation, as I can't see far without a second set of eyes." She said, minimizing the scenario options and admiring the scenery for herself. Amidst the dry sands were also groupings of shrubbery, where a small tinting of colors verified the presence of flowers.
"Then I'll be moving up ahead." Elbrus turned and began walking to another direction, the muzzle of its Type 300 gun system bringing itself to activated bear. A loud clunk
, heard through Echo Thunder's cockpit speakers, signaled that the Framewerk's autoloader had just finished its first cycle and now had a shell chaimbered. "I'm sending data packets to you know - just random gibberish, but are you receiving them? I'll be using this channel to transmit target data. It's two-way, so we can share data."
"Data received." Alyssa responded, arming her own weapons systems. Echo Thunder seemed to respond to Elbrus' loading sounds with two louder clunks
of it's own as shells were loaded into both cannons, followed by a grinding sound as the cannons rotated out of their stationary positions. The white and blue frame then took a few steps forward before hunkering down.
"If you need any backup, I can be there. But until then... I'll be waiting."
"Roger," Harold so replied, his voice easing to that of his starfighter days. Everything he said thereafter was cool and understated in the manner of a typical fighter pilot or void traffic controller. "Elbrus is advancing to contact. Stand by for fire mission, out."
He took a mental note of Echo Thunder's acknowledgement as he continued to make his way forward, through the shadows of the canyon's great walls and across its hard sand and rock. He passed through its sparse vegetation, uncaring as to whether he trampled them or not, the two muzzles of his cannon and autocannon sweeping left and right in co-axial link. Minutes passed as he rounded corner after jagged corner under archways like massive, doorless gates.
This was rough terrain. Elbrus could not use its sensor arrays to their full effect here, as natural barriers reduced his detection range and various clutter muddied up his returns. Harold remembered the rating that the simulation gave him earlier in similar terrain - "Average."
Harold spent little time on talk - ever the professional soldier, he was. All he transmitted to Alyssa was just the occasional tactical report. He opted to send one as he put Elbrus to a stop where it had a good field of view for the next ten or so kilometers before the canyon rounded to the side again.
"Echo Thunder, this is Elbrus. No contact yet, over."
"Roger that." Alyssa replied over the comms, but then found herself wondering why Harold was yet to make contact. The canyon may be big, but shouldn't he have run into something by now? Are they not moving to find us too?
She continued to adjust Echo Thunder's cannons in response to Elbrus's tactical reports, as the aiming UI was admittedly defeated by the walls of earth that comprised the canyon.
Elbrus was about fifteen or so kilometers away from Echo Thunder at that point. Harold considered moving onwards, but doing so would compromise unit cohesion. Then he laughed. The rough terrain meant that they were already
disrupted. Doubt began to set into his mind. Just where was the enemy?
"Echo Thunder, this is Elbrus. No contact yet, over."
Harold just sat there, arms crossed over his chest as he waited and waited till he could wait no more.
Then, there was a flash of red from his sensor suite. Harold laughed again. Of course! It was so obvious.
Elbrus' clawed feet began backpedalling at an almost panicked rate. Actuators were pushed to the limit as they roared to tilt the Frame's torso back as much as possible. Harold unfolded his arms and grabbed the two control sticks almost immediately. There - atop the canyon cliffs - and staring right at him, was a Cruxi mech whose distinctive features were that it had what appeared to be large, insectoid wings, and that it was pointing a rifle directly into his eyes.
There was the mock battle - and now this. He cursed his carelessness and the inflexibility of his mind, so chained by old training manuals that had no place among Framewerks. His brows furrowed in anger and he growled,
"Elbrus reporting conta-"
His voice was cut off by the unmistakable sound of a firefight.
"Harold?! D-Damn it... firing!" Alyssa's voice panicked over the radio as a rythmic, thunderous pounding echoed throughout the canyon. Shell after shell fired up into the sky, and just as the first shell began to arc Alyssa's voice came back through the comms.
"If you're in range, get out of there! The shells are coming down!"
There was no reply till a minute after, and in the interim of which, fire control data from Elbrus was sporadic. When the transmission finally came, Harold's voice was shaky and distracted.
"Copy... copy!" In the background, thunderous booms of what could only be Echo Thunder's shell impacts could be heard, their volume competing with Harold's words - and so he belatedly turned external audio off. The bangs
of Elbrus' Type 300 could still be heard, however. "Alright! Elbrus has engaged a squad-sized Cruxi force. Confirm fire mission good despite danger close. Good effect on target - requesting more rounds. Two targets destroyed so far, over!"
Alyssa quickly adjusted Echo Thunder's cannons to the data being received from Elbrus, firing off a few more rounds before one of the cannons jammed. The firing rate then slowed by half, and the system bleeped in alarm.
"One of the cannons jammed, switching the other to fire HYDRA shells." She warned, the remaining cannon emitting a cling
as a shell casing ejected, followed by another clunk
as the new shell type was loaded. A second later the cannon fired, the shell soaring up into the sky before arcing and falling back down. Halfway through the fall the shell broke apart and out came a small swarm or missiles that began seeking out targets.
"Take care, HYDRA missiles have proximity tracking!"
"Do they have IFF? They better fucking have IFF!"
"I-I... I-I'm not sure, I've never used them until now!" Alyssa replied as another shot of Echo's cannon rang out.
There was a very long pause thereafter.
"Well," Harold was practically yelling at this point. "It turns out they do! Lucky me, because I'm running in the god-damn open surrounded by missiles and taking return fire-" There was a series of bangs
from the Type 300. "Right. Take that you son of a- Elbrus is popping smoke and disengaging. My right leg is pretty shot up, and I'll be taking longer to- ah hell, they're also disengaging. Your artillery is scaring them away! Change of plans - I'm following the bastards - actually no, I'm heading back to you. There's no telling if they detached one of their guys to hunt you down. Are you getting any counter-battery fire, 'cause I'm not seeing jack!"
"Ro -... roger!" Alyssa radioed, trying to keep up with Harold's change of plans. "...Counter-battery fire?" She muttered to herself before scanning the area. "I don't see anything yet." She said, just as a series of explosions tore into Alyssa's ears. Quickly muting the exterior noise as best she could, she found herself focusing on the wrong thing. Before Alyssa knew it, Echo Thunder was sprawled out across the floor and a glance upwards revealed the attacker.
A pair of Cruxi were atop one of the archways, one equipped with an explosive launcher and the other with an automatic weapon that it was now firing at Echo Thunder. Alyssa hurriedly got her Frame back to it's knees, eyballing the archway with her cannon and firing.
A loud explosion was then punctuated with the sounds of falling earth and rock, and sand was flung up high enough to obscure vision for a few moments afterwards - before being thrown away by an incredible mid-air explosion as one of the Cruxi was definitely disintegrated, sending little pieces of rock and flaming metal to bounce off of Echo Thunder's plating.
"Holy shit, it actually hit?" Harold's excited voice came. He allowed himself a laugh. "I used your optical sensor feed to direct one of my cruise missiles. It actually hit! Isn't modern technology-"
A series of terrible explosions cut him off. "God damn it, I'm taking hits. The idiots are using the lull in your fire to come at me! Requesting rounds, over!"
Alyssa finished righting Echo Thunder, and fired off another HYDRA shell despite fire control data from Elbrus suddenly appearing to be dead, undoubtedly from battle damage.
"Incoming payload!" She warned, turning her attention to the cannon that jammed up - which now appeared to be straight-up broken. What the hell...
Alyssa thought to herself. It's never broken that easy before... note to self... don't land on back.
Echo Thunder proceeded to tear the cannon barrel from it's mounting, walking over to the debris of the fallen arch before stopping and firing off another HYDRA towards Elbrus' location. Alyssa then scanned the debris as the next round was loading, until she found what appeared to be a Cruxi head and bashed it with the cannon barrel. Of course, the barrel broke and the Cruxi didn't even seem to be moving, but that clearly didn't stop her from trying.
"Good effect on target!" Harold came in, voice crackling over the radio. Clearly his communications array was damaged. "Just one of them now, cowering behind a- oh shit, he's coming for me. Oh, this boy's pissed. And he's got this big-ass scythe! He's coming for me! Can you still get my data? Nothing but the close proximity radio seems to be working, over!"
Echo Thunder quickly loaded another shell type and fired. "Tracer coming in on you
. Cover your optics and open fire if you can!" Alyssa yelled, switching the shell types again and firing off a few more standard shells to capitalize on the tracer's upcoming bright flash.
"Fuck me, that is bright! Also, your shells are fucking ripping me apart! The dispersion's getting really narrow now that I'm close to you. Just cease fire for a moment, will you? I've got a plan! Just train your guns where the canyon turns from your point of view. I'm about to run there. When you see the alien with the glowing scythe, you fire, okay?!"
"R-Roger that!" Alyssa replied, ceasing fire and aiming her cannon at the opening that Elbrus should appear from any moment from now. Just don't shoot too early... don't shoot too early...
Her mind raced. She'd fucked up that last barrage, no telling how bad just yet. But hopefully this plan would pan out just fine.
"Okay," Harold said. "Okay, I'm close. Okay - okay, here I am! He's still at my tail. When I turn, you fire! I'm gonna bluff by aiming my gun at him, but it's broken. It'll probably give you some time - even if he doesn't stop, fire anyway."
There, in the distance, limp-running with armor plating torn away and umbilicals hanging like exposed intestines from its torso, Elbrus' battle-damaged form showed itself. It wasn't easy to see where Echo Thunder was at, but dents and holes from shells of multitude calibers covered the Framewerk from cracked head to shattered toe.
"Do you copy, over?!"
"I copy!" Alyssa responded, her eyes scanning the pass expectantly with her finger ready on the trigger.
And there it was - Harold's 'pissed boy with the big-ass scythe' - insectoid and hunched in form as most Cruxi war machines were. Its wings had been torn apart, either by Echo Thunder's blasts or Harold's marksmanship. Yet the rest of its alien form still appeared battle-worthy, a lot more so than Elbrus. Rust-red sand and charred, non-penetrating hits made blotches on its otherwise pure white armor whose glow under the sun almost matched that of its fearsome melee weapon - a very large power-scythe.
Elbrus stopped on one leg and swung the other around as it turned. Harold, with jerky movements inside the cockpit, brought up his Type 300, fighting against torn servoes that only just barely supported the weapon's weight. There was no crosshair on the display anymore - not even for its autocannon sub-mount - but he reckoned he was eyeballing it well enough.
But the Cruxi squad leader did not fall for it, still rushing towards Harold with the sole intent to kill.
"For the love of God, fire!"
Alyssa quickly pulled the trigger once the command came through, the shot ringing out as the round proceeded to tear clean through the Cruxi's right leg before exploding shortly after. The force of the explosion served to knock the Cruxi down faster, while a portion of said force rocked the Elbrus. Another shell zipped by, just barely missing the fallen Cruxi and exploding a ways away.
The Cruxi, hellbent on pursuing its prey, crawled towards Elbrus and tried lashing at the Frame with it's scythe while another shell impacted the raised weapon and exploded. The resulting force sent Elbrus backwards, while the Cruxi's left arm was blasted off.
"Damn it why can't I hit the damn thing?!" Alyssa cried as she fired another round, which impacted the ground to early and knocked the Cruxi onto it's back. Another shell whizzed by and exploded by the Cruxi's chest, rolling the body over once more as it finally appeared to stop moving.
"...I-Is it dead?" She asked tenatively, just as she swore she saw it move and quickly fired yet another shell at the Cruxi corpse.
Elbrus lay unmoving, and there was a terribly long interval before Alyssa heard his crackling voice once more.
"Hello, hello? Can you hear me?"
"Yeah. I hear you loud and clear."
"I'm using my phone as a radio. Elbrus is knocked out. Hydraulics, electricity, communications - it's all dead. Except for the window saying 'scenario complete.' Good thing we're in VR, huh? Might wanna be less trigger-happy with your shells next time - just as I need to be more aware."
Alyssa could hear his crackled laugh - it was a heartfelt, genuine expression of sheer enjoyment.
Alyssa let out a sigh of relief before laughing with him. "Noted. Less shells." She confirmed, a smile creeping across her face. She knew deep down that live combat would be nothing like this, but she found herself thinking this particular simulation had been fun.
The VR-bed hissed as it opened, allowing a weary Harold to step out, face even paler than it usually was. He turned to the side to regard Alyssa's similarly shaken form.
"Well, that was fun," he said, smiling, before looking at a nearby status monitor.ELBRUS, ECHO THUNDER PERFORMANCE - ROUGH, CLEAR
ELBRUS: KNOCKED OUT
ECHO THUNDER: MEDIUM DAMAGE
ENEMES DESTROYED: 7 OUT OF 7
RATING: ABOVE AVERAGE
"Above average," Harold read out loud, tasting the phrase as it rolled off of his tongue. "Well, I guess our combination works out, although in that scenario, I think anybody from Team Sigma could have acted as your forward observer. Perferably, someone who can climb those cliffs. My sensors are just as good as any other set within ten or five kilometers. But anyway - good work!"
"In hindsight, it might not have been the best environment to test it... but, an above average rating says something. Especially seeing as we just met." Alyssa chuckled somewhat gleefully. "And good job on your part, too! I'm not sure if anyone else on Team Sigma would've come up with that last plan you had, so there's that."
"Nah," Harold waved dismissively. "Last time I came up with a plan, we almost lost a sim-battle. It's a pretty embarrassing memory. Fucking... open comms and all that other nonsense. Can you believe they made me squad leader?" He sighed, although not too unhappily. "I'll probably find out I've been demoted when they debrief me on that mission, but... man!"
He clapped his hands once. "I'm hungry. You hungry? Wanna get some chow?"
Alyssa thought for a moment before finally answering. "Yeah, I could eat."