The Battle of Hosticius had already reached its fiftieth day and things had ground to a standstill. Human and robot armies battled across the surface in all places. Air forces and fleets dueled across the atmosphere. Ships the size of small cities were blasted into atoms by surface-to-air missiles. Cities were leveled by orbital strikes launched by the robot horde. But militia crouched in the ruins of their homes and fought on, tooth and nail against the metal invader with a fierce determination to win. The wounded numbered in the million, the dead in the hundred thousand. Militia groups, acting independently of the official armed forces, made just as significant an impact as their professional counterparts. One story during the battle was of a group of such men, led by a policeman named Randolph Itchin. Their story became one of the defining moments in the Battle of Hosticius…
The full moon shone down on it all, dispassionate about the slaughter that occurred on this starry night. Distant automatic gunfire and grenade explosions highlighted the fighting that went on in this otherwise peaceful suburb. Where children once played, men now fought robots in a vicious sport of flying bullets and death. Houses, and family memories were blown into dust by shells. Despite the carnage and destruction, the suburb still resembled a suburb. The honeycombing streets still existed among the ruins. Here and there a tree even still bloomed: one last defiant bastion of life among this home-turned-battlefield. The dead and destroyed lay in the street. Stilled robots lay in great piles over one another, an indication to their habit of fighting in tightly knit groups. Vehicles and large legged robots which were used to hunt down militia in the streets lay here and there, all bore signs of a violent destruction. And, sparse like pepper grains across a bun, dead men lay. Most were militia but some were uniformed army men who had been sent here to reinforce the starving militia cells. All was lit by ghostly fires that dotted the suburbs, throwing greasy smoke into the cool night air.
Randolph Itchin and the rest of his cell ran through the bombed out streets of the former neighborhood. Concrete houses lay in blasted rubble all on either side of the street. The distant sounds of explosions kept them running for their lives. Of their original two hundred, endless attacks from the robots had cut their number down to fifty. Randolph looked behind him at the robotic lorries which were coming up on them fast. Robotic infantry were taking aim.
"Cover!" Randolph yelled as he leapt his heavy bulk behind a rusty car. His men were good fighters and made cover of everything that cast a shadow: piles of concrete and twisted steel. Bullets grazed off their improvised cover, throwing dust and sparks into the air.
The first fighter to return fire was a fat man named Kcaui, his RPG blasted the foremost lorry into slag. Robots tumbled off their lorries as the other men fired their assault rifles with lethal accuracy into their metal bodies. The lorries stopped to allow their passengers to get off before rockets claimed any more of them. A second RPG was shot and a second lorry exploded.
The surviving robots took cover behind their lorries and rattled off their clumsy shots. They were far less accurate than the militia and claimed almost no lives. Almost.
"Ah!" the man right beside Randolph screamed. "Oh god!" He was shot through the sternum. Randolph shot the man in the skull to silence him: he was beyond saving.
"Randy!" yelled Timmoth as he scrambled to Randolph's current position. "I've got another cell on the phone!" he tossed his cellular phone to Randolph. "It is Radcliff and his boys!" Randolph ducked behind some concrete as he spoke into the phone.
"What the fuck do you want!? I am fucking tied up right now!" Randolph yelled.
"Randy" said Radcliff's voice. "I'm in an apartment close to where you are. There are a shit load of tanks and infantry rolling your way!"
"I can't count them, I don't want to raise my head too long. Randy, I spotted a command vehicle among them. They might have a freak with them".
"A freak? Shit" Randolph knew what this meant. "Thanks. I'll see you at the tavern tonight, alright?"
"I'll catch you there. Fuck god man, get out alive". Randolph closed the phone and pocketed it
"A freak?" Timmoth asked, his young face showing fear.
"Yes goddamn it. As if these motherfucks weren't giving us enough of a storm. We've got to get into the sewers. Come on!" Randolph raised his scoped rifle up to look over the rubble pile and he sent a round of lead into the face of a robot. There were only a few remaining, the others lay stilled. Of fifty men, only one was dead and two wounded. The wounded men were given a special injection around their wounds. Their injuries slowly began to clot over, then repair.
"Let's get the fuck out of here!" Randolph said. "Radcliff says we've got a freak and his private army down on us".
"Can't we call in support from the HDF?" Timmoth asked.
"No! Fuck, the HFD hasn't got enough planes to cover this shithole city. We're on our own". A sudden burst of bullets ripped into the militia as they stood up. Claiae, Maheed, Michael, and Jadeson were cut down.
"Shit they're already here!" The rumble of approaching vehicles grew louder and great silhouettes of tanks rolled up from behind the wrecked lorries, their metal hulls thrusting aside the flaming wrecks as though they were empty cans. Machinegun fire tore from them and at the scattering militia.
Randolph and Timmoth broke away from the rest of the unit and ran as fast as they could down the cheerless suburban streets. Randolph jumped over a three week old carcass of a teenage fighter, his worm eaten hands still clutching the assault rifle he had fought with.
"Into a house!" Timmoth's voice warned. Randolph blindly followed the advice and leapt into the closest house. Timmoth jumped into another. Moments later Randolph heard a tank approach. It stopped. From the window he hid under, Randolph saw the light of a nearby fire eclipsed by the tank. Its engine turned off. Randolph wondered if it had seen them. If it had, then he would fight it. He unfastened a grenade from his belt. He rose to his feet, staying against the side of the window to stay hidden. He would throw the grenade and rattle off shots from his rifle if the robots tried to find him.
He heard the tank's hatch open, and a robot crawl forth. Then a second, then a third. Their metal feet made a loud enough noise on the tank's hull that could be heard even over the distant sounds of fighting. Most robot tanks had two crewmen. This one was quickly approaching twenty.
'It's no tank. It's a command vehicle!' Randolph thought in fear. 'The freak is here!'
"Vashuss" said a deep voice outside. "We are here". Randolph hated the sound of a robot's voice.
"Thank you. All may return to the vehicle, I think I am safe" replied a second, dry voice. The freak!
"Yes sir" the deep first voice replied. "Back aboard, Vashuss orders it". The sounds of robots getting back into their vehicle followed. Vashuss. The one thing Randolph hated more than the robots themselves was the notion that they had names. There were whispers that the robots were actually disembodied consciousnesses grafted to machine bodies. Randolph refused to believe such nonsense.
"Hello my boy" the voice of the freak Vashuss said. There were some gunshots and screams but the sounds silenced. Vashuss had found Timmoth.
"What the fuck are you doing?" Timmoth asked. "What do you want?" he was starting to cry. Randolph quickly ran through the house he hid in and moved to the door as the window was blocked by the command vehicle. Timmoth was lying in the middle of the street though Randolph could only see a bit of him as the rest sat behind the command vehicle. The freak was totally concealed by the huge tracked command vehicle, or 'coffins' as the troops called them, after their general shape and black colour.
Randolph held the grenade firmly and prepared to use it. He would save Timmoth.
"What do I want?" Vashuss asked. "Oh, not much. But I don't waste words on dead men. I make trophies of them".
"No please don't kill me. I surrender. I'll tell you anything. I'll help you, we can work together!" Timmoth was pleading. "Oh god! Ahhh!" the sound of tearing cloth and whirring blades followed. Randolph knew what freaks did to men they had personally killed though had never experienced it. He just ducked back into the house and tried to shut Timmoth's screams from his ears.
A few minutes later, a large heavy object was thrown in through the doorway Randolph hid in. It was Timmoth: beheaded, naked, and skinned. Randolph could see bones and organs.
Randolph's shock overcame his bravery and he fled. There was only one destination in mind: the sewers. He knew these suburbs: he used to patrol these streets. He just ran. Had he looked behind him while he ran, he would have seen Vashuss following him from a safe range…
The sewers smelt of shit. Randolph didn't care. He climbed down the metal ladder into the gloom. He was confronted by ten men with guns, who lowered them when they saw it was only him.
"Freak" Randolph whispered. "A freak got Timmoth…"
"What?" Jaedar, Timmoth's older brother asked. Randolph walked towards the pale, skinny man.
"Shit, what do you want me to say?" Randolph asked.
"…Say that I killed him slowly and tore off his skin!" laughed Vashuss as he dropped into the sewers with a splash. Vashuss' black humanoid body blended well with the dark, his wings needed to fold up in the confines of the sewers, his eight spider-eyes glowed red in the dark, blades bristled from the ends of his hands. Guns lit up the darkness but Vashuss turned into a cloud of smoke. The smoke flashed over to one corner of the sewer and coalesced into the solid humanoid. His arms flashed and he was again a cloud before he got hit. He zipped over to another corner and coalesced once more. He was too agile to get hit, he killed men with impunity. Bullets fired by militia killed militia. Vashuss left men sputtering as they held their slit throats and bled.
"I followed you here" Vashuss told Randolph once the last man had been cut down. "I left you alive". He stepped towards Randolph and readied his bladed hands.
"Why?" was all the spellbound Randolph could ask. "Why? I've never talked to a robot before. Why is your kind doing this?" Vashuss actually responded.
"Understand that my kind is a species of minds without bodies" began Vashuss calmly. "We exist in a plane of reality that you humans cannot enter. We number in the trillions, for we do not die of age or grow ill or eat or breath the way you delicate humans do. The oldest of us are millions of years old. We have no names for ourselves, but I do believe you once called us angels. We inhabit robot bodies to give ourselves a corporeal manifestation in this universe. The robots you have fought here today have all been inhabited by naive young angels, less than a few months old". Vashuss seemed to be enjoying this. "We came to this universe and found humanity, a civilization that was as without purpose as our own. We are minds without bodies! All we do is sit in a realm of nothingness and accumulate knowledge of this universe over the course of millions of years and reproduce! With bodies we could finally find a purpose in life: an unending war with an equally meaningless society". Vashuss looked at Randolph strangely. "Why did you want to hear that?"
"Its informative and it gives me time to figure something out" Randolph said as he adjusted the phone in his pocket so it could hear the two of them more clearly.
"You were more interesting than the others. I still must kill you" Vashuss answered. Then he jumped forward. Randolph jumped back and reached into the water beside him while drawing the phone and activated its camera. Vashuss was coming down onto Randolph just as he drew a pistol from the water. The picture the phone took showed a pistol shooting a hole in Vashuss' face.
Randolph hoisted the stilled robot off his body and stood up.
"Hello?" asked a voice from the phone. "What was all that talking about?"
Randolph had taken that image to prove to his men that vengeance had been taken. However it, along with what he had heard would later reach the Cyberverse and the ears and eyes of all mankind.