(Sorry for the delay, I was busy putting my short story, Bloodlust: The Great Games up on Amazon)
Something bothered me about the drones.
Drones are the backbone of any Nomad team. On a purely tactical level drones act as an adaptable force modifier and allow nomads to engage targets from one extra step removed if desired. An old war philosopher called drones the second remove. The best way I can explain it is that a remove is an offensive advantage that gives a tremendous advantage in safety over those who do not share it. In her estimation the first remove was ranged weaponry, giving a soldier the ability to kill from a distance. If you have a good rifle and your opponent has a greatsword, the distance between you is a tremendous, almost uncrossable gulf. It takes quite a bit to overcome that remove. A drone adds another remove. You can attack at a range, remotely. Your opponent may strike back at the drone if they have a ranged weapon, but not necessarily at you. It is an interesting idea that I cannot really do justice to. Suffice it to say that drones changed everything when they first appeared, that much of the old histories survive.
Even when Nomads and the fleet do not have the luxury of sending the drones to do all the work, they often do a lot of the heavy lifting. Some, literally; ammo, cargo, and repair drones are indispensable in many operations, if a little boring. Most Nomads leave non-combat drones to their own devices, letting them run on auto and only interfacing with them through universals. Still, I think they are worth mentioning. Nobody likes running dry when the enemy is bearing down.
Combat drones are sexy. Most nomads have at least two. Some of the more advanced suits drop all but basic weapons in favour of more attack drones. The Black Widow Nomad suit is a good example. Interface with up to twelve drones. A Widow in a secure position is almost as feared as sniper or a kill-sat. Of course interfacing with twelve drones requires a special kind of talent. I find running five difficult enough, and I am considered quite good. I dated a Widow pilot once. In the end I wondered if they named the damned suit class after her.
On the surface Combat drones provide a Nomad team with extra fire-power. Specialist weapons that might be too constraining for regular use, guns that are too unwieldy for your suit class, and so on. A few multi-purpose Combat drones have multiple weapons and even shields, acting as full capability teammates. Their are advantages an disadvantages to both. Most ace Nomads disdain the multi-purpose combat drones, calling them training drones, but Nomad Triumph very rarely leaves his behind. A few combat drones are even more unusual, like Jessup’s ripper drone, Sharky. Ripper drones are essentially a flying bladestorm: monofilament wires, vibrosaws, nightmarish up close. Limited use, but very, very powerful.
Combat drones are also more expendable than Nomads. They know no fear, at least not that I have ever heard. They can be placed in positions and situations that would be too risky for an armoured suit. That’s the second remove thing I guess. Most Nomads hate losing a drone, but it beats kicking the bucket yourself. Almost all combat drones can be set to overload and detonate, it is expensive, but some situations really do call for a remote control suicide bomb.
Sensory drones come in many flavours and are nearly as common as combat drones. A good sensory drone is small, cloaked, and carries quite a bit of analytical equipment. My seekers, Hugi and Munin, are about the size of a human head and carry a full battery of sensory equipment. Raw recruits often look on seekers with disdain, but it only takes one run in with a stalker or a cloaked renegade to change your mind on that account — if you don’t buy it. A few specialist sensory drones see common use among Nomads. Spotter drones act as targeting assists for snipers or artillery. Sniffer drones can analyze scents, which happens to be the best way of detecting and tracking bugs. Sphinx can actually use a sniffer drone to read the scent based communications of the Scourgeforms, the only way we have found of listening in on them.
Defensive drones see frequent use, especially by heavies. I love my shield drones. Nothing beats having a mobile shield in tight battles — I have saved more than a few squad-mates from death over the years with a well timed shield boost. I sorely missed in this day’s fighting– it is almost as if those bloody stalkers came at me just to get rid of it. Barrier drones are less mobile but can provide a nearly unassailable wall when needed. ECM and counter-missile drones are almost indispensable in some conflicts.
Some of us are even superstitious about the little machines. Drones do not learn an adapt with the speed of a human or full-function AI, but a long serving drone can pick up a few tricks and even some quirks that make them seem like part of the team. I have seen hardened Nomads give funeral services, even shed tears for a pet drone that had been with them for a long time.
Stepping onto a dropship that wasn’t carrying any drones made me feel naked and suddenly vulnerable. Nomads do not neglect their drones, even a lazy, rebellious bastard like Jessup. They are simply too important. We always carry spares, if only to switch out specialist drone types. I held my fist up, pulsing caution over secure coms. I motioned for scorch and maleficent to get off the boat.
Shrike read my mind, her seekers began to slowly, lazily examine the dropships hull. It did not take them long to find the bomb.