Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

In Fury Born: Chapter Nine

       Last updated: Monday, January 9, 2006 19:32 EST



    "Sniper! Eleven o'clock, tenth floor!"

    Alicia DeVries flung herself sideways, plastering her back to a wall of old-fashioned brick, as Corporal Sandusky's barked warning came over the com net and a sudden, crimson threat icon flared at the corner of the immaterial, helmet-driven heads-up display her neural feed projected into her mental vision. Sandusky's Alpha Team had the overwatch as Bravo leapfrogged past them up the city street, and she heard the distinctive whickering "snarl-CRACK" of a plasma rifle.

    The packet of plasma smashed into the façade of a building perhaps a hundred meters further west with an ear-stunning blast of sound. Brick and mortar half-vaporized and half-shattered as the energy bolt hit. The second plasma strike slammed home an instant later, and flames and smoke poured from the demolished stretch of wall as thermal bloom ignited the building's contents. Then, slowly, the entire tenth and eleventh floors crumbled, spilling out into the street below in a stony avalanche of dust and debris.

    "Clear," Sandusky announced, and Alicia's helmet computer obediently erased the threat from her mental HUD.

    "Acknowledge," Lieutenant Kuramochi said. "All right, people. Back to the salt mines."

    Alicia was astonished at how reassuring she found the lieutenant's matter-of-fact tone. Intellectually, she was confident that Kuramochi didn't know much more about the immediate tactical situation than she did, but at least the platoon commander sounded like she did.

    The thought was distant, little more than a flicker far below the surface of Alicia's conscious mind as she kept her eyes glued to Gregory Hilton's back. Third Squad was Second Platoon's point, and at the moment, that meant that Gregory Hilton, personally, was the entire recon battalion's point as they advanced towards the Presidential Mansion.

    The older rifleman seemed much calmer about that than Alicia could have been in his place, but no one would ever have confused "calm" with "relaxed." Hilton moved warily, cautiously, head swiveling. Like all Marines who were Recon-qualified, he was (like Alicia) one of the sixty-plus percent of the human race who could tolerate and use a direct neural computer feed. And, also like Alicia, his surgically implanted receptor was currently locked into the computer built into his combat helmet. It linked him to the helmet's built-in sensors, drove the HUD which it kept centered in his mental field of view, managed the free-flow com link, and connected him to his M-97's onboard computer. In his case, it wasn't a full-scale synth-link, the ability to actually interface directly with a computer. It still had to work through the specially designed and integrated interfaces, but the effect was to provide him with continuous access to all of his equipment. That gave him a huge "situational awareness" advantage over any non-augmented foe, and after so many years of experience, all of that extra reach was as much a part of him as his heart and lungs . . . which didn't keep him from using his own booster-augmented vision and hearing to supplement his other senses.

    Alicia, on the other hand, was synth-link-capable. Only about twenty percent of all humans fell into that category, but that was enough to give the Empire a tremendous advantage over its Rishathan opponents, none of whom could handle neural receptors, at all. Even Alicia had never been qualified for a cyber-synth-link, however, and she was just as happy about that. Fully developed AIs were . . . unstable, and best, and any unfortunate soul in a cyber-synth-link with an AI when it crashed normally went with it. That struck her as an unreasonable price to pay, even if the fusion of human and computer would have given her a subordinate of quite literally inhuman capability.

    Because she was synth-link-qualified, though, she had an even greater "natural" situational awareness and Hilton did. At the moment, she had every bit of those capabilities on line, searching for power sources, weapons signatures, com transmissions, or movement to the flanks or rear, but three-quarters of her attention was focused on Hilton, watching for his reactions, looking for hand signals.

    "Keep one eye on me all the time, Alley," he'd told her quietly when they started out. "You've got my back; I'll worry about what's in front of us. Clear?"

    "Clear," she'd said, happy that she'd been able to keep any obvious tremor out of her voice. Not that "keeping an eye on him" was the easiest thing in the world to do. Like her, Hilton wore reactive chameleon camouflage. It wasn't as good as the more sophisticated system built into powered combat armor could produce. Then again, powered armor radiated a much fiercer emissions signature, which made any sort of purely optical camouflage useless against front-line military grade sensors.

    The fabric of Hilton's uniform and the surface of his helmet and body armor -- his entire equipment harness, for that matter -- was covered in smart fabric which produced an illusion of semi-transparency. The sensors in his helmet maintained a continuous 360? scan, transmitting the results to his uniform, whose fabric then duplicated that same imagery across its surface, merging him visually with his background. The result was rather like looking at a humanoid figure made of absolutely clear water, with everything beyond it sharply visible, yet subtly distorted.

    The effect wasn't perfect, and in good visibility, any movement tended to give away the wearer's position. But even under optimum conditions of visibility, the reactive camouflage made someone virtually invisible, as long as he held still. In the sort of smoke and dust hovering in Zhikotse's air at the current moment, it was far more effective. Except for the other members of the platoon, that was. Their helmet computers kept track of what their fellows' camouflage was doing and effectively erased it from their vision through their neural links.

    Which meant Alicia could, in fact, keep her eyes focused on him, and that was precisely what she was doing. Gladly, as a matter of fact, because she realized that she needed as much of the benefit of his experience as she could get.

    Her current position, she knew, was at least partly a sign that the rest of her squad recognized her newbie status. César Bergerat, with his own far greater store of experience, was in charge of keeping a protective watch over Frinkelo Zigair and Leo Medrano as they followed along behind her with the team's heavy weapons. But in another way, Hilton's attitude was a testimonial to his confidence in her. After all, she was the one he was trusting to keep him alive. Of course, he might figure he might as well appear confident in her, whether he was or not, since he was stuck with her anyway. Still --

    Her M-97 snapped up to her shoulder without any conscious thought on her part. The muzzle tracked slightly to the left, then steadied, and the sensor built into the combat rifle's laser designator popped a crimson crosshair into her HUD. The crosshair moved slightly as her synth-link dropped a command into the combat rifle's simpleminded computer, selecting grenade, and the helmet computer adjusted for the grenade's different ballistics. She compensated for the change automatically, holding the crosshair on target. And then she squeezed the trigger.

    The grenade launched with a mule-kick blow to her shoulder. The rifle-launched weapon was slightly less powerful than those in Zigair's grenade bandoliers, but its advanced chemical explosives were far more potent than anything pre-space Terra might have boasted. The instant it cleared its safety perimeter, its tiny, powerful rocket kicked in, and it went screaming down range. Its exhaust drew a fire-bright line across her vision as it streaked across the street to drop dead center through a window on the fifth floor of an office building.

    My God, did I --?

    The question ripped through Alicia's brain even as she rode the M-97's recoil. It had happened so quickly, so suddenly, that her conscious mind hadn't had time to sort it all out.

    Then the heavy concussion grenade exploded in the room where she'd seen the movement. The flat, percussive thunderclap was muffled by the structure, less noisy than the plasma fire had been, but the targeted window and a good-sized chunk of wall to either side of it, blew back out in a fan-shaped pattern of debris.

    She was still staring up at the explosion, wondering half-sickly if she'd just allowed herself to kill a civilian bystander, when a rifle tumbled out of the dust cloud. It fell through the air, spinning slowly end over end until it smashed on the sidewalk below.

    Militia-issue, her mind identified it as her augmented vision zoomed in on the plunging weapon. But while the rifle might have come from a militia armory, no militiaman would have been surreptitiously drawing a bead on the back of an Imperial Marine point man.

    "Nice one, Alley," Hilton said after a moment. "Next time, though, give a guy a little warning, huh? Scared me out of at least a year's growth."

    "S--" Alicia cleared her throat. "Sure," she got out the second time around, sounding almost natural and hoping he couldn't hear how indescribably grateful she was for his calm, every-day tone of voice.



    Something suspiciously like a chuckle sounded over the net, and Alicia swallowed again, hard. She had no doubt at all that she'd just killed at least one human being, and she'd discovered in the process that her grandfather had been completely correct when he told her that no matter how hard she might try to prepare herself for that moment ahead of time, she would fail.

    No choice, the small voice in the back of her brain told her as her rock-steady hands reloaded the single-shot grenade launcher without her eyes and helmet sensors ever stopping their constant sweep for fresh threats. You didn't put anyone up there with a rifle, that same voice told her as she moved forward behind Hilton again, watching him as he glided onward, moving from parked car to parked car, using them for cover. Besides, the voice told her almost brutally, it's what you volunteered for, isn't it?

    It was. And even now, she sensed that she'd been right -- it was something she could do, when she had to. And something she could live with afterwards, as well. But she also knew she'd just taken the critical step into a world the vast majority of the Empire's subjects would never visit.

    She was a killer now.

    She could never change that, even if she wanted to. It was like a loss of virginity, something which would mark her forever. And the fact that she'd known it would happen, that it was the inevitable consequence of the vocation she'd chosen, did nothing to cushion her awareness of how hugely her personal universe had just changed.

    But there was no time to think about that now, and she felt herself moving from car to car in Hilton's wake, almost as smoothly as he'd moved.



    Captain Chiawa leaned back against the wall in the small, empty apartment, muscles sagging around his bones, and breathed heavily.

    He and his small party had managed to break contact with the rioters. He didn't know how. It was all a blur, a confused memory of staccato orders, frantic movement, running and hiding. In the process, they'd gotten turned completely around, though, and they were headed directly away from the spaceport they'd been trying to reach. By now, they were almost half way across Zhikotse from the Marine perimeter. That was the bad news. The good news was that they had broken contact . . . and no one seemed to be trying to kill them at the moment, which made a pleasant change.

    He opened his eyes and looked at the other militiamen.

    "How are we fixed for ammo?"

    The other men looked as exhausted as he felt. Their adrenaline-sharpened tension had eased off a bit as they settled down in their temporary haven, and it seemed to take them a few seconds to grasp what he'd asked.

    Then Corporal Munming ran his fingers over his grenade bandolier without even glancing down, letting his fingertips read the Braille-like coding on the grenade bodies.

    "Five flechette, two concussion, two incendiary, two smoke, and three HE, Sir," he said, then chuckled wearily and patted the compact machine pistol holstered at his right hip as his backup weapon. "And, of course, three mags for this."

    "Of course," Chiawa agreed with a tired grin, and looked at his three riflemen.

    "And you guys?"

    "Two full mags, plus one partial," Private Mende said with a slight shrug. "I've got one smoke grenade, one gas grenade, and one frag to go with it."

    "Four magazines, Sir," Private Paldorje said. "I'm out of grenades, though."

    "Only one mag," Private Khambadze said. "But I've still got two rifle grenades, both anti-personnel."

    "And I've got --" Chiawa patted the ammunition carrier pouch at his hip " -- three magazines." He smiled without very much humor. "Not a lot of firepower, is it?"

    "Sir," Munming said frankly, "at the moment, I'm sort of thinking firepower's going to be a lot less useful than just staying the hell out of sight."

    "I'm afraid you've got that one right," Chiawa agreed. He took off his helmet and set it on the floor beside him while he dragged out his map board and turned it back on. He wished -- not for the first time -- that he had the sort of modern information systems the Marines were issued. In their absence, he'd just have to do the best he could with the obsolete militia-issue equivalents.

    He pressed the locator button, and the board's GPS system obediently paged to the correct window of the small-scale city map and dropped the position icon onto the display. He spun the adjustment wheel, zooming in on the icon and enlarging the map's detail, then frowned thoughtfully.

    "All right," he said, looking back up after a moment. "It looks like we're not going to get to the spaceport any time soon."

    "Fucking A," somebody muttered, and he showed his teeth in a brief smile.

    "Now, now, Mende," he chided. "Let's not go around saying things to make the commanding officer doubt his own judgment, shall we?"

    That won a general, weary laugh, and he tapped the map board with a grimy fingertip.

    "As I was saying, it looks like, for whatever reason, most of the mob on this side of the city seems to be headed for the spaceport. Or Downtown," he added more grimly, and the others nodded. The dense smoke rising from Zhikotse's business district had gotten only heavier, and the occasional explosion of small arms fire and grenades indicated that at least some of the militia were apparently still trying to control the looting. It didn't look -- or sound -- like they were having a lot of success.

    Chiawa resolutely yanked his mind back once again from his background dread over what had become of his own place of business. It was right in the middle of all that smoke, and all that he and his family had. Or all they had had, that was. But at least he'd managed to get through to Ang Lhamo before the civilian com net went to hell. His wife and their sons had headed out of the city within fifteen minutes of the initial disaster. By now they were safely at her parents' farm, thank God.

    What mattered most at the moment, however, was that the business district was wrapped around the entire western and southern circumference of the spaceport. He'd heard one or two very brief, concentrated cascades of fire, some of it from heavy-caliber calliopes, where someone had bumped up against the perimeter Major Palacios' Marines had obviously established. He hoped that most of that firing had been a demonstration to encourage people to back off, not a case of the Marines firing for effect, but his communicator had been put out of action over an hour ago. Which meant he was out of contact with anyone else, with no way to know just how bad the situation between his present position and the spaceport actually was.

    Besides "not good," he thought mordantly, turning his head to look out the apartment's window at the billowing smoke. He could see flames rising from some of the taller buildings in the financial district, as well, and he shook his head before he returned his attention to his handful of men.

    "I think we can probably get there eventually if we keep circling north, though," he told them. "If we head up through the Pinasa District to the Thundu Bridge, then cut across through the barge docks, we can link up with the spaceport perimeter here."

    He tapped the map display again, and his dirty, tired troopers craned their necks to look at it.

    "What about the Presidential Mansion, Sir?" Corporal Munming asked after a moment. A jerk of his head indicated the direction of the Presidential Mansion and the rest of the Mall. They lay considerably to the west of Chiawa's indicated route, and the captain looked up to meet the noncom's eyes.

    "We don't know the situation there," he said, and waved his left hand around their temporary apartment refuge. "We do know they were under a lot of pressure before we lost communication. Frankly, I think the Mansion and the Mall are probably drawing as many rioters as Downtown. I doubt we'd be able to get through, and even if we could, the five of us and the limited amount of ammunition we've got left wouldn't make a lot of difference."

    He leaned the back of his head against the wall behind him and looked around at their faces.

    "I'll be honest with you. Technically, it's our duty to suppress what's going on out there." He jerked his chin at the window. "I don't think we're going to be able to do a lot of 'suppressing' on our own, though. So our next responsibility is to get ourselves back into contact with higher authority and join up with some outfit big enough to do some good. I don't think we'd get through to the Mall. I think we have a pretty good chance of getting through to the spaceport, though, and we're not going to do anyone any good if we just get ourselves killed. So, as of this moment, as I see it, my mission is to get you guys to the spaceport, preferably alive. And, of course, my own humble self with you. Now, does anyone here have a problem with that?"

    The others looked at one another for a moment, then, almost in unison, turned back to him.

    "Hell, no . . . Sir," Mende said.

    "You're the boss, Skipper," Munming agreed, using the informal title for the first time.

    "Well, in that case," Chiawa shoved himself upright and crossed to stand looking out the window, "I think we need to get ourselves back on the move."

    His eye dropped to a van parked at the curb below him, and he felt a powerful stir of temptation. But he suppressed it. "Borrowing" the van would let them move more rapidly, and it looked as if this part of the city was still relatively calm. But they'd passed quite a few wrecked and burning vehicles on their way here, a lot of them in equally "calm" neighborhoods. The mere fact that a vehicle was moving appeared to draw fire from the rioters, and he was quite certain that some of those flaming wrecks indicated spots where some other fleeing group of militiamen had run afoul of deliberate ambushes or roadblocks, as well.


    "Yes, Sir?"

    "Can you find us a manhole? Get us into the storm drains?"

    "Sure. Or, at least, I think so."

    Chopali Mingma Paldorje was a city maintenance worker in civilian life. He'd already extricated them from one dicey situation by leading them on a detour through an underground service access. Now he stood beside Chiawa studying the street for a moment.

    "There," he said, and pointed. "There'll be a junction point out there, at the corner. Should be a manhole down into the box at that point."

    "And the drains run straight to the river from here, right?"

    "Prob'ly." Paldorje rubbed his chin, frowning thoughtfully. "This isn't exactly my area, you understand -- I'm an electrician, not in Sanitation, so what I know about storm drains is pretty general. Still, Environmental's always raising a stink 'bout our dumping runoff straight into the river, so they must go right through. No clue how big the drains are, though."

    "Who cares about big?" Munming said, looking out the window in turn. "Underground, now -- that strikes me as a really good idea." He looked approvingly at Chiawa.

    "I should've thought of it sooner," the captain said, but the corporal only shrugged.

    "Captain, you've got us this far alive. Dunno that we'd've made it half as far without you."

    Chiawa looked at him, almost stunned by the simple approval and trust in Munming's voice. His own estimate of his military capabilities had crashed and burned with the disaster at the Annapurna Arms, and a part of him wanted to tell Munming how wrong he was. How foolish it would be to trust Karsang Dawa Chiawa with anyone's safety.

    But he didn't say it. Instead, he only smiled, slapped Munming on the shoulder, and nodded to Paldorje.

    "All right," he said. "I think we can get most of the way to the corner without ever leaving this building. That should give us pretty good cover right up to the manhole. After that, it's up to Private Paldorje here."



    "All Wasps, Gold-One. Find a spot and listen up, people."

    Alpha Team had point in Second Platoon's current advance, and Alicia simply froze in her overwatch position as Lieutenant Kuromachi came up over the platoon net. Corporal Sandusky, whose team was out front, lay in her field of view, and he kept moving ahead until he found a secure spot in the angle of an apartment building's front steps. She continued to turn her head, scanning their surroundings, while her synth-link updated her HUD. She saw the forty-four icons of the rest of the platoon on the map overlay, switching from the blinking red-banded green of Marines in motion to green circled in unblinking amber as each of them settled down in a secure position.

    It was good to know where the others were, although absorbing the HUD without being distracted by having its disembodied icons hanging between her and her surroundings had taken some getting used to back at Camp Mackenzie. Fortunately, it had always been easier for her than most, even in basic, and she hadn't had the problems dealing with the competing sensory input which had plagued some of her fellow recruits. Part of that was the ability to multitask which she'd always found useful, but the fact that she was synth-link-capable was another part of it. For her, absorbing input through her neural receptor was as natural and direct as using her own eyes or ears.

    She dropped a command into her helmet computer, and a rash of rapidly strobing crimson icons flashed into view, representing the helmet's (and the platoon's at large) best guess of what threats lay ahead of them. A few of the icons burned with the steady, unblinking brilliance of positively identified dangers, and as she watched, two more switched into that category as the hovering counter-grav remotes being monitored by Gunny Wheaton refined their data and dropped it to the entire platoon's helmets.

    The HUD, she reflected, showed a lot of firepower between her and the Mall, and she heard the not-so-distant crackle of small arms fire and the occasional, heavier cough of a mortar or one of the militia's old-fashioned, shoulder-fired rocket launchers.

    "We're getting close," Kuramochi continued, when she was certain all of her people were ready to listen. "We've got about three klicks to go, right along here."

    A green arrow extended itself across the HUD which Alicia knew every member of the platoon was now watching. It continued along the route they'd been following, crossed a small tributary of the much larger river flowing around and through the northernmost limb of Zhikotse, and terminated at the eastern edge of the Mall.

    It also threaded directly through a glaring cluster of icons representing what looked to be fairly well dug-in infantry positions -- probably somewhere close to a full company's worth of them. Alicia didn't much care for the look of that. Nor did she care for the icons of three positively identified calliopes and a dozen or so individual rocket launchers sited among the infantry.

    "According to the CP," Kuramochi went on, "the militia still hold most of the Mall, and the major pressure on their perimeter appears to be being exerted from the south and southeast. It's hard to say exactly what the insurgents are after. According to Lieutenant Beregovoi, though, we've developed intelligence in the last hour or so which indicates that the majority of the GLF's surviving leadership cadre is over here now, instead of Downtown. It looks -- and, again, I caution everyone that we don't know this with any certainty -- as if the leadership's decided that the situation's gone so entirely out of control all of their bridges have been burned behind them. According to Lieutenant Beregovoi, they appear to have given up their efforts to shut things down because they believe they can't possibly salvage their position here on Gyangtse after this, no matter what they do. So they may have decided that their only real option -- personal option, not for their 'movement' -- is to take the planetary government, or as much of it as they can, hostage."

    The lieutenant paused as one of the icons on the display blinked.

    "Go ahead, One-Alpha," she invited, acknowledging the request.

    "These yahoos really think they can bargain for a way out of this, a way off-planet, if they take hostages, Skipper?" First Squad's sergeant, Julio Jackson, demanded incredulously.

    "I said we don't know that for certain," Kuramochi replied. "On the other hand, it's certainly possible. I'm not saying they're right, you understand. But, let's face it, people. Whatever actually went down at the Annapurna Arms, these people are screwed. There's no going back after this, which means the only options they have are bad ones . . . and worse ones. They may figure they don't have much chance of cutting a deal if they have hostages, but they're probably pretty damned sure they don't have any chance of doing that without some sort of bargaining chip."

    She paused, then continued.

    "At any rate, we'll continue as briefed. Three-Alpha."

    "Three-Alpha," Sergeant Metternich replied.

    "Three-Alpha, you're lead. One-Alpha, you've got the back door. Two-Alpha, you're Three-Alpha's flank and overwatch security. Confirm copy, all Alphas."

    "One-Alpha copies. We have the back door," Jackson replied.

    "Two-Alpha copies. We have flank security and overwatch," Sergeant Clarissa Bruckner confirmed for Third Squad.

    "Three-Alpha copies. We have the lead," Metternich chimed in.

    "All Alphas, Gold-One. Wait for my command. Lieutenant Ryan's people have a little party favor for the people in our way."

    Alicia settled a bit more deeply into her own position. She took the opportunity to doublecheck -- triplecheck, really -- the positions of the rest of Second Squad's Bravo Team. She was exactly where she was supposed to be under Kuromachi's plan of advance: the southeastern anchor of a hollow triangle pointed almost due west. César Bergerat was the northeast corner, and Gregory Hilton's icon was its apex, while Leo Medrano and Frinkelo Zigair, at the triangle's center, were the team's heavy fire element.

    "All Wasps, Gold-One," Kuramochi said a few minutes later. "On the way."

    Alicia just had time to draw a deep breath, and then the abbreviated whistle of incoming mortar rounds rode down out of the heavens to touch the earth with fire.

    Lieutenant Ryan's mortars were over fourteen kilometers behind her, but their 140-millimeter precision-guided munitions arrived with pinpoint accuracy. The people holding the positions sealing this part of the perimeter around the Mall had effectively zero warning . . . and they'd neglected to provide their hastily prepared positions with overhead cover. Which proved a fatal oversight as the carrier rounds opened like lethal seed pods, spilling anti-personnel cluster munitions across the crimson icons on Alicia's HUD.

    The Marines' mortars would have been recognizable even to someone from pre-space Terra, but they were far more capable than the unsophisticated metal tubes of their remote ancestors. They were magazine-fed weapons, although they could also -- and often did -- fire individually hand-loaded rounds. Now, both tubes ripped through a full ten-round carousel magazine each. They got the entire twenty-round fire mission off in under ten seconds, and the individually guided rounds tracked in on their preselected targets mercilessly, blanketing them in a deadly stormfront of explosions and antipersonnel flechettes.

    "Go!" Lieutenant Kuramochi barked as the thunder ended as abruptly as it had begun, and Alicia swung herself up and out of her position.

    Her pulse hammered harshly, and everything seemed preternaturally clear, harder-edged and sharper than even her augmented senses should be able to account for.

    Ahead of her, Hilton disappeared into the billowing smoke and dust of the mortar bombardment, but only for a moment. Only until she followed him into the smoke and her helmet visor switched to thermal-imaging mode. The helmet computer converted the thermal images into knife-sharp, clear imagery and dropped it directly into her mind through her synth-link. Aside from the fact that it was black-and-white, it might have been the normal input of her optical nerves, and she saw Hilton turn slightly to his left.

    His M-97 snapped up and ripped off a sharp, precise three-round burst, and she heard a high-pitched, choked off scream.

    It wasn't the only scream she heard, either. The handful of survivors from the hapless insurgents caught in Lieutenant Ryan's fire support mission were beginning to recover from the paralyzing shock of the totally unanticipated carnage. There weren't very many of them, and most were wounded.

    Alicia had never heard anything like the sounds of the wounded and dying people around her. She saw one of them, shrieking as he tried vainly to hold his eviscerated abdomen closed. Another -- a calliope gunner, rising from the seat behind his multi-barreled automatic weapon -- held his arms raised in front of him, screaming as he stared at the blood-spurting stumps of his forearms. Yet another --

    She made herself stop looking. She didn't stop seeing, didn't stop the automatic search for still viable threats, but she made herself step back from the immediacy of the human wreckage strewn about her. She had to. She couldn't allow it to distract her, not when the rest of her fire team needed her where she was, doing her job while they did theirs.

    Her own rifle rose, tracked onto a figure rising out of a deeper foxhole than most with a weapon in his hands. The helmet computer dropped the red outline of an unidentified potential hostile onto the figure, and she took in the civilian clothes, the lack of any militia uniform. He had no helmet, and it was obvious that the mortar bombardment's smoke and dust had him at least two-thirds blinded. A tiny corner of her brain told her that his handicapped vision gave her a grossly unfair advantage, but even as it did, she heard her grandfather's remembered voice.

    Combat isn't about 'fair,' Alley. Combat is about shooting the other guy in the back before he shoots you -- or one of your buddies -- in the back. You aren't some hero out of a holo-drama, and you're not out there on some field of honor; you're on a killing ground. Never forget that.

    Her finger stroked the trigger. The combat rifle recoiled, and the target took three rounds, dead center of mass.

    I remembered, Grandpa, she told Sergeant Major O'Shaughnessy as the man she'd just killed went down.

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image