War is a crucible. Valhalla awaits the worthy.
Chief Amos Roy—a young soldier haunted by the loss of his brother to the enemy—is thrust into the fight before he's ready. War is a harsh teacher, and his fellow Armor are just as wary of him as they are the foe. When the enemy unleashes a mobile battle station with the power to annihilate cities, Roy must prove himself to veteran Armor that he's worthy to fight beside them. Can battle forge a team that will stop the enemy's super weapon? For here the Armor will find the Iron in their hearts and the spirit to win any war. Even if nothing but embers of defiance remains. Til Valhalla is a military science fiction novel written by the Dragon Award winning and Nebula Nominated Richard Fox. Read it now!
"I wanted to write and say that I have read many Mech Books in my time from Battletech and Mechwarrior ones, but by far Richard Fox is the best author in telling a great story with some great humor mixed in. He gives great detail and his characters are ones where you really care what happens to them. I have read and reread all of his books, they are so great that you don't want to put them down even though you know that you need to go to sleep. I would HIGHLY recommend any of his books to anyone who loves this type of story."– Amazon Review
The girl slumped against a battered wall, her rifle clutched in dirty, raw hands. The scratch of dried sweat crusting her uniform chaffed her skin, but clean uniforms and showers weren't part of the Australian Home Guard.
She shifted a satchel off her lower back and onto her lap, her fingers touching the latch, ensuring it was still closed. She gave it a quick pat and stuck her shoulder into a corner to stay propped up as her helmet came off and loose strands of sweat-soaked hair fell across her face.
The sound of machine-gun fire in the distance sent tension through her muscles. She glanced over at her squad leader, Roberts, who put a handset to one ear and shrugged. The rest of her squad grumbled, half on watch at the windows of a bombed-out house, the other half doing what they could to rest.
"Nothing from the company yet," Roberts said. "Some local bloke shooting at a dingo. Probably."
"Need me to send him out for a look?" the girl asked.
"Save the batteries, Bailey," Roberts said. "Better safe than sorry. You turn Tyke on, it might get the Chi-com's attention. Intel says they've got the better scanners in our sector now."
"Yeah, yeah." Bailey shut her eyes, but her exhausted muscles twitched, keeping sleep away.
A pair of explosions rattled the walls and sent a spike of adrenaline through Bailey's body.
"Fuck me." The squad sniper, Kenny, hefted his rifle to one shoulder, stepped back from a window frame, and brought the scope up to his eye.
"Wasn't our artillery." Roberts tapped the radio handset against his collarbone and put it to his ear.
"Thought the Chi-com weren't anywhere near here," Bailey said, wiping sweat from her eyes and glancing out a window. Short trees and peanut bushes swayed in a breeze as dust blew across hot asphalt. There wasn't much left of Kingaroy but wrecked buildings and dead cars.
"They care what you think?" Kenny brushed dust off his rifle.
"Piss off," Bailey took a pack of cigarettes from a breast pocket and shook one out. She pinched her lips around the butt and fumbled for a lighter.
"Got something," said another soldier with binoculars at his eyes as he waved to Roberts. "Beetles. Couple of them."
"Shit." Bailey tucked her unlit cigarette back into the pack and looked at Roberts's waist, where three grenades with wooden handles hung from his belt. Then she looked out to where the binoculars were pointed and saw a half-dozen squat aircraft lift up from the tree line. Turbofans within the Beetles' hulls roared with effort as the wide transports flew north, away from the Australians' position.
"They empty?" Roberts asked the sniper.
Kenny, his rifle tracking the departing aircraft, swallowed hard. "Empty, Sergeant. They've got cargo hooks, not troop bays," he said. "Looks like they landed on the rugby field."
Bailey let off a string of expletives and looked back out of their position for a quick way out. Cargo hooks meant vehicles. Armored personnel carriers, tanks. Or worse…Dragons.
Roberts, the handset to his ear, nodded quickly. "Heard. Squad Blue moving out." He snapped the handset to a hook on his fatigues and raised one palm up quickly. The scouts got to their feet and moved to the wall with the exit door.
"Company wants eyes on whatever the Beetles dropped," he said. "Bailey, bust out Tyke and be on the bounce. We take a gander, then we get the hell out of town."
"What if it's Dragons?" a soldier asked. "If it's the suits, we're dead meat."
"If it's Dragons, then the company definitely needs to know. The whole Brisbane sector needs to know," Roberts said, his face growing paler by the moment. "Probably isn't. Shouldn't be. Last word was all their Dragons were on the Derby front. Just keep it together until we get eyes on, yeah?" he added before he stepped through the door and hurried down the street at a crouch.
Bailey followed out Roberts, her battle buddy, and the pair fell to the back of the squad as they made for the enemy landing zone. The squad of nine moved fast and quiet in their simple uniforms of fatigues with light equipment attached to belts and chest harnesses. Bailey, the shortest of the team, moved a pouch off her lower back and pulled out what looked like a small brick with tiny bits of electronics stuck haphazardly against the top.
As the other Home Guard soldiers took cover around her, she slid next to a wall, snapped four rubber wheels to the brick, and flipped a switch on the underside.
"You have Tyke ready yet?" asked Kenny, peeking quickly over a rock and concrete wall.
"His batts are…low." Bailey glanced at the back of the drone and grimaced.
"There's a bottle shop between us and the road to the rugby field," the squad leader said.
"Just have him get a look."
"He runs dry out there, I'm not making the pickup." She put the drone down and pulled a small tablet from a thigh pocket. "It's the cherry's turn."
"Kiss my arse it's my turn," a soldier hissed from the corner of a wall. "I picked him up that one time, remember? It's Roberts's turn."
The sniper tapped the stock of his long rifle. "I'm overwatch, not trash pickup." The rev of engines carried over them, tamping down the bickering.
"Not too close, Bailey," Kenny said, tapping her shoulder. "Get some pics for command. That's all we need."
Bailey nodded quickly and swiped a fingertip across her screen. The small drone lurched forward and a tiny metal bar swung up, a cluster of lenses and cameras scavenged from old cell phones wired to the tip.
"Tyke's worth more than Roberts's lazy arse." She snapped her gum and the drone whirled around the corner, kicking up loose dust. "I'm just saying."
"Did your toy drill a Chi-com at a hundred and fifty meters back in the bush and save your ungrateful arse? Yeah, nah, didn't think so." Roberts wiped sweat off his forehead, then took a sip of water from a line attached to his shoulder harness.
"Yeah, yeah." Bailey scrunched her nose as the feed on her tablet screen bounced around as the drone sped down the road away from the team. "Audio's out again. Shouldn't matter too much."
The feed zoomed in on a beige wall and a low pile of old trash against the base. Bailey drove Tyke into the garbage and stopped the drone. She tapped the screen several times and the feed changed as the camera boom extended upwards.
The rugby field had seen better days. The aluminum stands were crusted in grime and partially collapsed from neglect, and a line of holes from high-caliber bullets splintered the scoreboard, letting rays of light through the broken score panels. Just who won the game between the Red Ants and Dingoes was lost to history.
"Shit," Bailey whispered and held up the tablet to Roberts.
"How many?" Kenny asked. "Is it Dragons or not?"
"Mengshi utility vehicles and three APCs," Roberts said. "Armored-up trucks have radios and electromagnetics detectors all over them. They've got a sat dish already set up…camo nets going over it now. It's a scout force."
"Couple of them in decent body armor," Bailey said. "Not their normal expendable scrubs." She tapped and swiped the screen, capturing and storing images, then paused and squinted hard.
"Roberts, that patch they got," she said. "It look like the Chi-com's special recon unit?"
A single crack broke through the air and Bailey's screen went blank, then flashed an error message. Her jaw fell open and she touched the screen gently, with no change to the error screen.
"It did look like their special recon," Roberts said. "Douglas, don't send the burst to the company yet." He squeezed his rifle hard and looked back the way they'd come. "They must have picked up Tyke. We transmit again, they'll be all over us."
"The parts…" Bailey shook the tablet. "I need parts to rebuild—"
Roberts put a heavy hand on her shoulder. "Later," he said, looking up at the squad, all growing more anxious as the sound of heavy diesel engines grew louder. "Back to the last stop, then hop from rally point to rally point back to the company. Send the data soon as we've got another half klick between us and the Chi-com. Let's go."
He grabbed Bailey under one arm and got her to her feet.
"This was supposed to be a quiet sector," a soldier said. "Why'd the Chi-com send their best guys down here?"
"You keep wasting time, you'll get to ask them in person." Roberts hefted his rifle to his shoulder. "Bound by twos. Move. Move."
Bailey leaned against the wall and dared a quick look around the corner to where she thought Tyke was. She and Kenny were the last out. The rubbish next to the pack shop was on fire, and sheets of black smoke curled up from the remains of her drone.
With a squeal of brakes, an armored personnel carrier came to a stop, the forward-sloped engine compartment jutting into the open.
"Take cover!" Bailey shouted and waved to her team, most of them still exposed in the open.
The scout vehicle sped forward and the machine gun in the turret opened fire. Tracer rounds shot down the street, and bullets tore up the blacktop and into a pair of Australian soldiers, who pitched forward, their momentum and the bullet strikes sending them sprawling.
Bailey froze, her gaze locked on the two dead men.
"Shit, that was Kenny," said Roberts as he pulled a grenade off his belt and tossed it toward the Chinese armored vehicle. Red smoke spewed out of the device, obscuring them from the enemy in seconds.
When Bailey didn't move with Roberts, he had to double back, grab her by the front of her fatigues, and yank her forward.
Shouts in a clipped, foreign language came through the smoke that blew over the two Australians as they ran toward an abandoned house. Machine guns opened up on full auto behind them and a round snapped past Bailey's head. She squealed in fright as bullets kicked up dirt around them.
"Faster, girl!" Roberts pulled harder on her fatigues. "You can't—"
There was a slap and Roberts grunted. His legs cut out and he went to the ground, his grip on Bailey pulling her down too, landing her face-first against his side. Hot blood smeared across her eyes and she tasted copper. She rolled to one side, desperately wiping away the red.
Roberts lay on one side. His other was torn open, a mass of pulverized flesh across his stomach and up into his chest. A puddle grew beneath him and his mouth worked slowly, trying to form words his lungs couldn't make anymore. He reached slightly for his sniper rifle, then went limp.
"Roberts? Mate?" Bailey gave him a gentle shake.
"You yige! Shale ta!" came from behind.
Bailey scrambled forward and picked up the long sniper rifle, almost unwieldy for her short frame. Fire opened up behind her, smacking into the wall of the house and splintering the decrepit wood walls. She jumped forward, leading with the rifle to break the window, and landed hard, feeling pain from a dozen little cuts from shards along her arms and against her legs.
Adrenaline muted the pain as she craned her head up. She was in a small kitchen, dishes still in the sink and the fridge open.
The door crashed open as a Chinese soldier kicked his way in. He wore mottled black and green armor, the matte colors dampened by the dust clinging to the plates on his shoulders and over his chest. A flat visor covered the lower half of his face, while optics bulged over the upper half like insect eyes. His arms snapped a compact rifle up and he swept it across the room, his eyeline high and over the Australian on the ground.
Bailey rolled over and swung the sniper rifle toward the soldier as he spotted her. As she pulled the trigger, she realized she wasn't exactly sure if Roberts had the safety on. The weapon fired and the recoil slammed the stock against her armpit.
Broken armor plates and flesh exploded out the Chinese soldier's back and he flung back. His booted feet ended up just over the door threshold, one foot twitching.
"Ow ow ow," Bailey said, getting to her feet as pain spiked from her wounds. Blood seeped down her arms and legs as she limped out of the kitchen and into the living room. She grabbed the bolt with a slick hand and racked a new bullet in from the magazine.
"Nali? Nali?" came through the walls and a pair of silhouettes crossed a window.
Bailey ducked beneath the sill, panting, as she heard more Chinese moving just outside the walls. A rifle butt broke a pane just above her and a shard cut Bailey's forehead. A dark object sailed through the air and landed on a couch. The grenade bounced off a cushion and rolled toward Bailey.
She dove forward and snatched it off the floor. The explosive felt red-hot in her fingers as she flung it out the same hole in the glass it had come through. She went prone and covered her head as panicked shouts erupted from outside.
The explosion blew out the last of the home's windows and hit her like a decent punch. She spat out dirt and a bit of glass as a cloud of dust hung in the living room. A panel TV broke loose from its moorings and crashed to the floor on one corner. It tilted over and landed on a pile of plastic cars. For a moment, Bailey wondered just who used to live here.
A muzzle poked into the room and flashed as a soldier blind-fired. Bailey pulled into a fetal position as a round whacked the floor next to her ear. The muzzle retracted and Bailey hefted the sniper rifle up and pointed it at the wall to one side of the window where the shooting had come from.
She fired again and blew a hole the size of a soccer ball out of the wall. The only clue she'd hit her target was an uptick in shouting.
A pair of explosions cracked over the house, so loud it sent Bailey to her knees and made her ears ring with pain. All sound dampened as she grabbed her sniper rifle by the barrel with a bloody hand and tried to retreat to the kitchen.
Even with her damaged eardrums, she heard firing from the Chinese rifles around the house. Then a bigger weapon joined the din—a serious of louder cracks from a belt-fed heavy weapon, too large to be carried by a man. She thought it must have come from the armored vehicles that had carried the recon soldiers.
A bullet ripped through the corner of the house and sent a spray of wood fragments across her face. She yelped in pain and fell, the sniper rifle clattering away from her. On her hands and knees, her ears ringing, pain screaming from cuts all over her exposed flesh, she touched her cheek and felt a splinter as long as her little finger embedded in her flesh.
Then, through the floor, she felt the tremors. Regular and measured, but growing stronger. Like a giant's footsteps.
There was a scream and a Chinese soldier crashed through the kitchen wall and smacked against a small table. The man was dead, neck snapped and limbs mangled like a discarded puppet.
BAM! BAM! BAM!
A heavy weapon fired, sounding from just above the roofline outside the house. A pair of massive legs strode past the house, mechanical and dark gray.
Bailey, her back against the oven, pawed at the special grenades on her belt.
An engine revved outside, and Bailey saw an armored car racing down the street toward the house. A giant foot stomped the engine into the ground, spiking the vehicle in place, the back armored compartment tilting up.
Hands—each larger than Bailey's head—made of servos and steel gripped the APC and flung it to one side, ripping the crew section off and sending it into Bailey's house. It obliterated two walls and most of the roof as it ripped through.
As dust and smoke filled her face and lungs, Bailey coughed and dropped the shaped-charge grenade. She went to her knees, pawing blind against the floor, then heard and felt approaching footsteps. She looked up.
An iron giant stood over her, fifteen feet tall with a belt-fed cannon on one arm, servos for joints, and a knight's helm for a head. Bullet strikes had left gashes up and down the armor plates, but a symbol was still plain across the breastplate: a Norse hammer.
Smoke rose from the barrel on the giant's arm. The receiver on the weapon clicked and a spent shell casing fell out and onto the dead soldier. The arm with the cannon punched out and fired twice, each shot causing Bailey to wince in pain as her hand found the shaped-charge grenade in the rubble.
The giant's helm snapped to her and optics twisted beneath the visor. "I'm on your side," came from the suit. The accent sounded European, not Australian.
Bailey managed a sputter, flecks of blood coming off her lips.
"Where am I?" The helm turned away and an antenna rose up from a housing on its shoulder. "We're supposed to be in Gilla."
"You don't know where the bloody hell you are?" Bailey tugged the splinter out of her cheek. "Who…who are you?"
"I am Armor."
"You're a Yank is what you are." Bailey pressed her hand against the hole in her cheek and blood ran down her fingers.
"Name's Sigmund. Telemark Lance. Atlantic Union Armor Corps. Am I in Gilla or not?"
"You're in Kingaroy," Bailey said, picking up the sniper rifle. "You see any of my mates? And why the hell is the Union in Australia?"
"Kingaroy…our insertion was way off," the Armor said. "Where are the rest of the Chi-com?"
Bailey stepped over the remains of the outer wall. Dead recon soldiers lay scattered around and vehicles burned like pyres through the streets.
"We…we just saw this bunch. Came down in Beetles." Bailey found Kenny and clutched the sniper rifle against her chest.
"That's helpful." The Armor snapped his weapon arm against his side. "If this is their lead element, then we can catch the rest of their assault force while it's still deploying. You have communication with your higher headquarters?"
Bailey knelt next to Kenny and fished a bloody chain out of his shirt. She gripped a pair of metal dog tags wrapped in black tape, one shaped as circle, the other an octagon. She broke off the circle and slipped it into her pocket as the rest of her squad emerged from a small copse of trees a few blocks away.
"Girl!" boomed from the Armor's speakers. "You have contact or not?"
Bailey looked over her shoulder, scorn on her face. "The Union finally remembered there's a war Down Under?" she asked. "Not that I don't mind the help just now…but fuck off." She closed Roberts's eyes.
"One of you has a radio. Good. Tell your higher command my lance will attack the Chi-com at…Tingoora. The enemy should be there in battalion strength. Send close air support."
"You're going to fight an entire Chi-com battalion by yourself?" Bailey asked.
"Not by myself." Sigmund shook his helm. "I have one other Armor with me. Somewhere."
"We are all. But we are enough…how old are you?" The Armor stepped away from the house. "Twelve? Thirteen?"
Bailey held up a single bloody middle finger. "That's how old I am, you seppo," she said.
Plates on the Armor's legs snapped up and treads emerged from hidden compartments. The legs hinged at the hips and the suit settled down onto tracks. A few blocks away, a second Armor in the same configuration as Sigmund emerged.
"There he is," Sigmund said. "Call in our attack, crunchy."
The two Armor thundered away, leaving Bailey and what was left of her squad behind.
"You good, Bailey?" another Home Guard asked her.
"I feel like hammered shit." She reached into Roberts's cargo pocket and pulled out a tightly rolled body bag. "Let's get him and the rest home…someone call in that there's a Telemark Lance about to go beat the ever-loving shit out of the Chi-com up in Tingoora."
"Fuck me," the soldier said, craning his neck up to see the Armor as they sped away. "I didn't think those things were real."
"What's this mean?" another soldier asked. "The Union's finally in the war with us?"
"Hell if I know." Bailey flapped the body bag open. "Don't care. Hurt too much. Take care of our own. We're Australian, that's what we've got to do."
Stepping back from the body as the others maneuvered Roberts into it, she looked down at the dead man's sniper rifle, then back to the Armor in the distance.
"Never a good day in this war. Iron giants falling out of the sky to fight with us or not."