This is a short story about the fun within Titanfall.
Of Men and Giants
They say that the fall is the toughest part. Strapped inside those monstrous battle mechs as they careen, screeching through the upper atmosphere, breaking sound barriers and earth alike. The Titans suited their name and only the best of us ever got to use them.
Oh don’t get me wrong, I’d run the simulation countless times; learned the maneuvers and call-signs and all that, but to this day had not been granted the distinction of piloting one. Not today, not ever was my belief. The Commander had hinted that we’d all get the chance if we put in our time. On a long enough timeline, maybe, but this brutal war would not last forever and the direction wasn’t favouring our side either. Today’s drop would be no different than the last. Death or retirement would find us sooner.
I was saying as much to ILLESTRADER on the way down before the Commander had broken the thought.
“zzz 3 miles until we reach the beach! zzz”
The interior fluorescents of the transport ship blinked off replaced with the red amber landing lights. With our helmets donned we all stand in sync, holding on to the breach handles bracing for the impact. I check my weapons again, for the nth time, gloves and pockets. Nervous habit, but it was also a superstitious routine. ILLESTRADER can probably hear me grinding my teeth through his headset.
The transport ship drops us off along the outskirts of the town behind the defending wall, beyond the views of any infantry on the ground. We’d come in over the water, and under their radar.
This was a small battle, not one to win the war by any stretch. But small advantages here and there turn the tide. Small fights make for bigger wins, they repeatedly sold us.
This hidden town had the satellite uplinks that we mean to take for ourselves, to interrupt the IMC’s communication and hopefully control the staging for tomorrow’s battles.
Bracing myself against the torrents of heat and wind that escape the transport’s engine, I crouch low against the unfinished wall – many parts still showing rebar – looking up at the height. 10 feet maybe 15 I judge. After checking the computer on my wrist to ensure the jump kit packed into my backpack is charged and camera displays functioning, I motion to ILLESTRADER to join me at the wall.
Shouldering his Longbow-DMR rifle he breaks off his idle talk with the other Pilots, shuffles over and kneels beside me eyeing the height of the wall all the same.
“Only four other pilots with us on this drop, eh? A team this small, you’d think MILITIA pegged this scout point as of little importance, if it wasn’t for that satellite dish. You figure IMC will have much resistance?” I ask.
“I didn’t see any ground infantry outside of the wall. PIKEY thinks he might have picked up one of their Titans though. But, could be that the IMC thought this point was kept a secret.” He finishes checking his gear one last time. The transport ship fires its engines and starts its take off procedures.
The original orders asked us six to secure the dish, eliminating any resistance. No communication is to leave planet-side from the enemy so a quiet incursion was requested. The dish, however, is to remain functional. Drop-ships would return in ONE HOUR for extraction.
All of that has changed now as we stood against the defending wall, shying away from the wind and dirt. Our headsets chirped up:
“zzz New orders, people! Ground forces incoming and prepare for enemy Titan fall. Alpha point is still priority one, but go loud. I repeat: Weapons Free! Your own Titan is on its way, T Minus 10 MINUTES. zzz”
The thought of getting my own Titan consumes all my senses and I miss the rest of the communication from Command. Of all days, of all innocuous missions, today might be my day. The day I fight among giants.
ILLESTRADER is tapping me on the arm and pointing at the rest of the Pilots as they jettison towards the wall and clamber overtop. We follow in line. Cresting the top of the rudimentary wall I take in the view. I can see why the IMC thought this garrison would be overlooked. A dozen or so buildings make up its entirety. They were built in a scattered formation, obviously rushed, and surrounded by the thick but unfinished defence wall. At the center of the buildings rose the barracks and adjoining satellite tower. Pressing against the camp were mountainous hills, and on our side the water. Not the worst place to go out.
Most of the buildings were probably just housing for the soldiers who happened to be stationed here too, just two floor shanties. Maybe they’ve only been here a couple months? Maybe it was just a short term base that no one had expected to be of much importance.
As I sit there straddling the wall, I notice ILLESTRADER has already started to sneak along the top towards the nearest house and the other Pilots doing the same. My comfort doesn’t last long though as the base’s alarms start sounding, and soldiers start to scurry out from the barracks. Gun chatter picks up across numerous houses as a pair of our Pilots surprise some of the waking soldiers.
The sky parts up above, and the explosion of a rocket‘s fiery engines is heard seconds later. I stare upwards in awe; the anticipation canceling out all further thought as the first Titan breaks through the stratosphere and lands 100 feet from me. The thundering of the ingress rockets is replaced by deafening straining of metal and gears, and the hiss of hydraulics. The earth craters, shaking violently and the massive Titan moans, braced for the impact. The dust settles in a brief silence before a pair of drop pods flank the Titan, landing with feeble ferocity in comparison and a dozen soldiers rush out of each.
It will never get any less impressive, I gape as the ATLAS beast straightens, un-holsters its weapon and stands at the ready. These Titans were designed to be the mechanized representation of their Pilot: tall, armoured, human-like. Awesome.
From my wall perch I watch as the soldiers point at the defence perimeter and the Titan presses one of its clawed feet against the sturdy concrete wall. Painfully slow, the wall creaks and starts folding, crumpling in on its self. My seat now diminishing, I slide down the other side and kneel beside a shanty house and toggle the visor and secure my helmet. ILLESTRADER’s name along with the other Pilots mutely displays on my HUD as I look to find him perched.
“PIKEY’s Titan just breached the defence wall on auto-pilot, and two dozen friendlies have followed it through. What do you see?” Turning on my active camouflage, I sprint towards the nearest building and jump up against the wall, boosting through the second story window. I find paper scattered but no one inside. The invisibility screen blinks off a second later starting to recharge.
“His is our first Titan on the ground, mine’s still a few minutes away, and they have two landed already. I had counted three of their Pilots, but some are likely in their Titans now. We’ll find out soon-” Shots crack over the rest of transmission as ILLESTRADER hits his targets. “A lot of foot soldiers though. This place was obviously more important than we originally thought.”
“Any spectres? Hacking those would speed up the dish sequencing,” I inquire as I check the desk and wall for any valuable information.
“None from what I’ve seen.”
Damn. I check my Data Knife all the same but slide it back in the sheath.
Climbing back out the window and landing softly on the earth below I head off at a trot towards PIKEY’s Titan. It looks like its auto-pilot is set on guard mode near the entrance of the barracks and satellite dish. Maybe one of our Pilots is inside the tower already? Wouldn’t that be good luck!
No sooner had the thought concluded when PIKEY races out the door of the barracks in a cloud of smoke and tumbling debris, and heads towards his Titan. I reach it at the same time.
The ATLAS reaches down and grabs PIKEY, opens the body-chassis like a mouth and unceremoniously stuffs him inside, transferring control to the Pilot. I know this takes a couple seconds so I jump up onto the back and hold on to the shoulder, locking my boots to the armour.
As the control nodes inside power on and transition to Pilot command, PIKEY speaks up:
“Third Titan has hit the ground bro, on the other side of the barracks. OGRE class but no Pilot yet. Just hunched there shielded. I scoped the dish control center inside for a second. I didn’t see if anyone was defending it, thanks to the cloaking mods those buggers stole from us. But someone made sure I got real friendly with a grenade!” His Titan stands up, and starts to round the back of the barracks. “I also noticed C4 charges. My guess, they’d rather blow the dish entirely than lose control.”
I question their motives as I hold onto the shell of the Titan. I wonder to myself if the C4 is more for show. Destroy the panels maybe – unlikely the entire building would go.
As we round the building to see the shielded H-KA02/a OGRE, PIKEY’s own anti-personnel alarm starts to sound as a camouflaged Pilot launches from the satellite dish balcony and mounts the front of the chassis opposite me and starts shooting at the electronic boards underneath the breast plating.
“zzz An enemy Pilot has boarded your Titan. Zzz” I hear the buzzing of alarms and female computer voice echo through the Titan’s battle armour and internal insulation.
Completely unaware of my presence, I crawl up over the shoulder through hazy smoke and a shower of sparks and bring out my pistol; I tap him on the temple.
“BOOM! Headshot. He didn’t even see me.” I brag to ILLESTRADER as PIKEY thanks me, the Pilot falling lifeless to the ground. “One Pilot down, and who’s to say what’ll happen with his Titan now?” I ask to no one. Fuck all, since they’re only coded to their Pilot. “Shield will wear off any minute and then we can take it out.”
ILLESTRADER selectively doesn’t hear me, instead announces that his Titan is ready and that we’ve lost a Pilot of our own.
Why my Titan hasn’t been made available yet, I don’t guess. The expected ten minutes have lapsed without any indication of mine arriving, but I don’t share this with the others.
“Land your Titan near the far side of the barracks, and with PIKEY attack the other two enemy Titans,” I command, not meaning to. “I’ll disembark from PIKEY now and head into the satellite’s data centre, see if I can’t find anyone inside.”
I reason that ILLESTRADER has acknowledged as the sky again parts announcing another giant’s pending arrival. Envy simmering, I jump down off the back of my companion’s ride and head back towards the satellite. I still feel the Titan’s aftershock even as I reach the door.
Checking my wrist’s digital display quickly, I watch as the team of PIKEY and ILLESTRADER’s Titan reduces the empty enemy Titan shell to scrap before marching towards the other side of the town. ILLESTRADER rests on the balcony of the satellite dish’s base to scope out the battlefield, content with his Titan following PIKEY on auto-pilot.
Turning on my active camouflage and entering the building, I quickly eliminate two sentries posted at the door. Our map told us we’d find the data centre on the third floor. The first floor is still smoky and a lot of the lights have burst, likely due to PIKEY’s grenade from earlier. Having cleared each room I head towards the stairs and remember to check-in before reaching the objective.
“Three enemy Titans are scrap now, and four Pilots won’t be going home. I think two of each remains,” ILLESTRADER responds. “I lost my Titan but I’m riding PIKEY’s ATLAS,” he adds.
“And of our own?” I whisper.
“Just us three.”
“What?” I exclaim trying not to make noise, but knowing full well that it was a poor attempt. “How?”
“BARD hardly made it over the wall before he was capped by a sniper shot, so his Titan never made it. They landed a Titan on CRUZ’s with him inside, and ARCHITECT was breaching the barracks with PIKEY when that blast went off earlier. That grenade or C4 or whatever fucked him up.”
“So I’m on my own? Peachy,” I mumble, frustrated. My wrist indicator buzzes as I reach a hallway with stairs. I look down to see my Titan is ready. My day has finally arrived–
The floor and walls explode into wood bits and sheered metal as a cloaked Pilot descends the stairs and sees me immediately. I hit my own camo, drop a grenade, and bolt down the hallway in the opposite direction. The Pilot doesn’t wait for the grenade to go off in front of him though as he starts chasing after me, kicking it aside. I round the corner and jump boost off the walls and up another flight of stairs, to the second and then third floor; the sounds of the grenade’s thud below.
This has to be where the data centre is, I think as bullets continually chase me, glancing off the hallway fixtures.
I round the next corner and slide into a dark office, closing the door. A few papers flutter and I look out the window to see the building’s balcony and a clearing outside. I hug the wall as my active camo blinks off. Ten seconds to recharge is all I need, as I listen for any footsteps outside in the hall. The Pilot’s empty shell casing and a Carbine’s empty magazine hit the floor with a deafening clatter as I hold my breath. One on one, I could probably take him, as I do have an element of surprise, but it’s too risky.
Deducing that the enemy Pilot will reach this office any moment I leave the window’s view and gather towards the adjacent wall, calling my STRYDER Titan. My plan was to escape through the window and reach my Titan. The distant crackle of the jets is suddenly dulled by the impatient beeping of an explosive charge outside the office door. Suddenly expediting my plan, I sprint towards the window just as the door implodes.
The world slows as the door splinters and bullets start to draw a silhouette around me into the walls, floor and window. Sharp chunks of metal, wood and glass bite and tear into my Pilot’s suit as I leap towards the window in a crouched fetal position hoping my arms and legs clear away most of the glass and any debris. Landing in a tucked roll on the balcony outside I make a show of leaping over the railing towards the clearing, triggering my cloak. Instead I hold onto the railing’s bar and drop straight down. Hopefully the Pilot thinks I’ve kept going straight ahead – the breaching smoke will help my cause, but the timing will have to be perfect.
The Pilot follows me through the window as hoped, plants off the railing towards the clearing, checking the ground to land safely. He doesn’t see, hear or feel the STRYDER as it crashes down directly overhead, reducing blood, skin and bone into dirt. Pilot no more.
“One more Pilot down,” I announce, proud of myself. “Is there anyone else still alive?”
ILLESTRADER speaks first, “PIKEY and me are still here, coming up to the dish on foot-”
The communications cut out as that thrice dead Pilot’s Titan comes tearing down to the planet, renting through both satellite dish and tower like a meteor. I vault forward, jump kit do not fail me now; reaching for my STRYDER’s open hand, I wait to be deposited into the chassis. I’m dropped into the cushioned seats as the interior cables start to plug into my helmet and the beast’s face closes. Close, close, close, I plead. The five synchronous screens blink on one by one as the dish’s explosion reaches my Titan. An avalanche of earth and satellite dish rubble shower me as the blast of the data centre and its new Titan addition mushrooms towards the sky.
“There goes the mission,” I announce, disappointed but relieved.
“HAH, don’t forget the neighborhood,” PIKEY adds.
“MILITIA Command? Send us that extraction. Satellite dish is destroyed by IMC’s own. Let the defeated few crawl back to their Commander to explain what happened. We’re done here. Over.” I exhale.
While removing my visor and helmet I take in all of the Titan’s inner workings. Nothing is better than the real thing.
Command affirms, and the remnants of our team start heading towards the beach for extraction. I spend every available moment inside my Titan, my STRYDER. I bask in the real world feel: the smell of oil, the taste of the exhaust. I may never get this opportunity again. I flex my hands and massage the controls as my giant trudges through the remains of the shanty village.
But at least there is a tomorrow.
“Today is my lucky day. I haven’t missed a shot!”
“That’s because you haven’t even pulled the trigger.”
“I’m trying to be precise!”
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