Chapter 80: 20 Minutes
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Caity and Jason came over as soon as they were summoned, but when they arrived at General Kenneth’s Command Center, it was almost completely packed already. Everyone that mattered in the Confederacy was here. Politicians like Governor Hanson. A line of officers, some of whom Caity had grown to recognize through her time here.

In the middle of the room was a screen, where a map was projected on top. It took Caity a single glance to know everything was going as planned. The purple color that represented the Mutated Ants has devoured a significant portion of the northern part of the UHC overnight. It was only when morning arrived did the UHC realize the atrocities that have occurred in the darkness.

General Kenneth slammed his fist into the table. His eyes reddened.

“How did five hundred thousand Mutated Ants sneak up into our territory unnoticed? Where in the hell are our scouts?”

“Sir, the Ants moved into position at night! All our sentries on the ground went dark before they could relay a message...”

General Kenneth cut him off. Now was not the time to place blame.

“The Ants are swarming in from the North. As of the moment, they are assaulting five settlements at once. We have three Armored Divisions on standby near that area. I want all of them to engage the Ants at once. Hold them back regardless of the cost! Take one step back, and I will put their commanders on martial court!”

“Yes sir!”

Three red squares appeared on the projected map. They were the three UHC Armored Divisions. Three arrows pointed the squares to the sea of purple, labeling their task.

“Mobilize all our available forces and have them converge on the closest Ant horde. Establish a defensive line in front of the Ants and hold their advance. Now!”

“Yes sir!”

A series of green squares popped up on the map. Even the UHC couldn’t constantly keep its 100,000 soldiers on high alert. This was early morning. Many of these soldiers were in bed. It would take time before they could be put together into an effective fighting force and sent to the front.

That was why it was so important for the three Armored Divisions to buy some time.

“Get the Destroyer into the air and prepare it for a short-ranged jump. Evacuate all settlements near the frontline! Tell them to leave everything and focus on getting everyone out of there! Forget about the personal belongings!”

“Right away, sir!”

With these orders given, many of the officers in the Command Center were sent into motion. As most of the attention was diverted, Governor Hanson walked up to General Kenneth and made a suggestion.

“General. we should keep some of our forces in the Capital. Otherwise, there will be chaos and riots.”

General Kenneth frowned. That made some sense. “Indeed. Colonel Dashwood, your 14th Division’s orders have changed…”

“Actually, general.” Governor Hanson cut him off. “I think the 6th Division will be more suitable for that goal.”

General Kenneth’s eyes widened in a mixture of disbelief and fury. For a moment, Caity didn't know why. That was when Lieutenant Kenneth beside her, who was equally struggling to contain his anger, spoke up.

“The 6th Division’s commander is on Governor Hanson’s payroll. Most of its officers and many of their soldiers answer to the Governor and his faction. They are his private army. Even now...he wants to preserve his power and let the others do the dying!”

Well, at least standing by and watching was better than being behind the attack. Caity thought darkly.

General Kenneth was obviously beyond furious, but he knew this wasn’t a time for internal conflicts. All he could do was nod, but deep down, he has made up his mind. When this was all over, the Governor had to go.

At the same time, Governor Hanson was scoffing inside. The general was a fool. Throwing away his own forces to defend settlements that were nothing but burdens to the UHC. The 6th Division was the largest Division in the UHC, with over 12,000 combatants. When this was all over and General Kenneth’s forces were depleted, these 12,000 men would step in and remove the general from office. And he, Governor Hanson, could finally ascend to the throne.

That was when Caity took a step forward. Both the General and the Governor turned to her.

“General, your contribution to my people was remembered, and we are willing to repay it now. If it is fine with you, I will order my forces to move into UHC territory and reinforce the front. We can only spare a few thousand men, but I assure you they are all of fine quality.”

This obviously surprised both men. Governor Hanson had a frown that he tried very hard to hide. General Kenneth, on the other hand, was obviously moved.

“You will have my eternal gratitude, Colonel Hunter!”

Caity returned a smile before walking to the side, talking out her satellite phone, and started issuing a set of commands. Of course, she was mainly acting. Already, back in Fortress Alpha, Ryan has informed all the commanders what was going to happen, from what the Phasewalkers would pretend to do to what they would actually do.

After all, this was all part of their plan.

The sound of battle echoed through the air.

When the three UHC Armored Divisions arrived at the frontline, the five settlements under siege were all completely demolished. Their inhabitants devoured. Their defenders slaughtered. The Mutated Ants were mowing their way through wooden houses and destroyed bunkers, on their way to deeper inside UHC territory. That was when they ran into the three Armored Divisions.

The 2nd Armored Division. The 9th Armored Division. The 15th Armored Division. Each armed with 50 Predator II, 50 Leopard APC, and 20 Arbiter X gunships. Together, they included around 18,000 UHC Troopers.

In front of them were 500,000 Mutated Ants.

It wasn’t a fair fight. Everyone knew it, from the UHC Troopers on the very bottom to the Colonels on the top. But none of them complained. None of them asked for a retreat. Everyone knew that for a while, they were the only line of defense. Behind them, were hundreds of thousands of their people. Their family. Their friends. Civilians who they’ve sworn to protect. The only thing they could do was fight.

So they fought.

There was no time to dig trenches. No time to build make-shift bunkers. No time to position tanks and APCs into ideal positions. Despite this, the UHC forces put up a worthy stand.

Arbiter X gunships rained down death and destruction, unchallenged by the melee Warrior Ants. Predator II tanks held the line. Each shot from their main cannons tossed a dozen Warrior Ants into the air. When they landed again, they were no longer alive. Or in one piece, for the matter.

Mounted Gauss Machine guns opened fire like bullets were on discount. Their shot crashing into the first line of Mutated Ants, cracking carapace and ending lives. The Ants were more tightly packed than the audience in a Taylor Swift event, making them the perfect target for mortar and rocket rounds.

Any Mutated Ant that survived through all those with most of their limbs attached were welcomed for their resilience by the Defender Rifles of 18,000 UHC Troopers.

But the Mutated Ants were never known for their individual strength. They were known for their numbers. The UHC commanders watched in horror as, after being beaten back in the center, the Mutated Ant horde on the sides simply kept on moving forward. Unchallenged by the same firepower their comrades in the middle had to go through, these Ants easily outflanked the Armored Divisions from the side.

A set of commands were issued, and squads of Predator II tanks were mobilized to cover the two sides and hold back the Ants there, but that left the center weakened. The results were obvious.

An enormous Mutated Ant, larger than 99% of its kind, launched itself forward. It was a Tier 1 Mutated Ant. Many of its kind were slaughtered in the bombardment, just like the common Tier 0 Warrior Ants, but this Ant was luckier. Gauss bullets bounced off its carapace. A UHC Trooper fired a rocket at its head. The rocket exploded, but the only thing it did was remove a piece of carapace next to its mouth.

That Mutated Ant kept on charging. It actually had a chance of reaching the UHC lines, if it wasn't for the Predator II that noticed it and ended it with one shot from its main cannon.

That Tier 1 Mutated Ant was put to an abrupt end, but it wasn’t alone. Across the field, hundreds of Tier 1 Ants were able to tank the firepower and live to see the UHC lines. Once they were in melee, even if they were crippled, these Ants were nearly unstoppable. The casualties quickly rose.

In just minutes, several spots along the line were penetrated. Those were the spots where not enough tanks or APCs could be spared. The combination of Arbiter X and the mobilization of reserves were able to fill those holes, but more and more of these openings kept on popping up.

Casualties quickly reached three digits, and it was rising exponentially.

When bad news arrive, it never comes alone.

Just as the Colonels were exhausting their reserve troops, another report arrived.

“Sir, the Ants have gotten around us! We...we are surrounded!”

Despite the best attempt of the UHC forces, there were just too many of those Mutated Ants. Even aside from those wounded or killed, and those occupied in the battle, there were still more than enough Warrior Ants to circle around behind the three Armored Divisions and fully surround them.

Their only way out was gone.

Across the battlefield, UHC forces kept on fighting. But take out one Ant, ten more would take its place. Take out ten, and a hundred more would fill the gap. Take out a you’re really badass! Here’s a Tier 2 Mutated Ant for you!

Their fight was coming to an end.

Leopard APCs were overwhelmed by the Ants. The endless barrage by the Mounted Machine guns couldn’t keep the Ants from ripping open the armored platings of the vehicles and dissecting the men inside. Predator II tanks were a bit luckier. All the gunners on the outside were taken out first, but those inside remained safe, for now. Either way, they were doomed. There were so many Ants packed in around them that the tanks simply couldn’t move. Soon, even the radio antenna and the main cannon were chewed through. The Predator IIs would become the iron tomb of its crew members.

Some crew members ended their lives on their own terms, with their Gauss handguns.

Infantry casualties jumped to sky-high.

It was all over.

The Arbiter Xs were perhaps the most fortunate of all the units. Tier 1 or not, the Ants still didn't have anti-air capabilities, but there was only so much they could do, especially since…

“Colonel! We are out of ammo! We need to retreat!” One of the pilots of the 9th Armored Division suddenly paused. “Sir, we can still carry some passengers out with us! Through the air! Do you want us to come to get you?”

All of a sudden, the command center of the 9th Armored Division went dead silent. All the officers and soldiers turned to their Colonel.

The man’s decision was immediate.

“No. Bring your gunships back to safety. You will be needed in the upcoming fights. As for us…” He quietly drew his Defender-C. “we were ordered to hold this position. If we can't defend here, then the least we can do is die here.”

“I understand. Good luck, sir.”

Guns kept on blazing. Grenades and rockets alike exploded across the battlefield. In the end, after all the reserves were depleted and there was no more commanding to be done, the Colonels themselves charged into battle, leading with them the last group of fresh troops. These troopers were the lieutenants and the secretaries and the cooks of the units. In the last moments of combat, these non-combatants picked up a weapon and followed their commanders into battle, just to buy those behind them a few more seconds to escape.

Twenty minutes after the initial engagement, the last gunshot died down.

The 2nd Armored Division. The 9th Armored Division. The 15th Armored Division. Three Armored Divisions. Nearly 300 Predator II and Leopard APCs combined. 18,000 men and women. Nearly ⅕ of the UHC military.

All gone.

With their sacrifice, they bought twenty minutes.

Twenty damn precious minutes.