Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

Old Soldiers: Chapter Nine

       Last updated: Monday, August 29, 2005 18:52 EDT



    Mary Lou Atwater cringed as a fresh explosion chewed another chunk out of her perimeter . . . and killed eight more of her militia troopers.

    Yet another assault rolled right in behind the explosion, and she crouched in the bottom of her hole -- her original command post had been destroyed over an hour ago -- and concentrated on her HUD's iconography.

    "Hammer-Two, I need mortar fire on Québec-Kilo-Seven-Three! Saturation pattern -- and be ready to go fusion this time!"

    "Yes, Ma'am!" Lieutenant Smithson, who commanded what had abruptly become her only mortar platoon in the very opening phase of the attack, acknowledged.

    "Backstop-One, get those Hellbores trained around! They're coming through Québec-Kilo, and they've still got at least one of those goddamned Heimdalls left!"

    She heard Sergeant Everard Rodriguez, the commander of one of her two surviving anti-armor sections respond, but she was already turning away to the next command. Her reserve was down to a single platoon, and she wanted desperately to avoid committing it. Once she did, she'd have nothing left to plug the next hole with, unless she could somehow extract something -- anything -- from the chaotic madness crashing over her perimeter.

    Maneka Trevor had confirmed the destruction of the remaining Melconian armored units -- was it really eighty-seven minutes ago? -- but whoever was in command of this particular pack of Dogs had launched his attack on Fourth Battalion before Trevor ever engaged the enemy armor. Atwater knew she should be grateful that those Surturs and Fenrises weren't crunching in on her at the same time, and she was. But that didn't make the thirty-two percent casualties she'd already taken any less agonizing. Nor did the knowledge that the Melconians had lost far more heavily than she had.

    So far, at least.

    "Breakthrough! Québec-Kilo-Eight-Niner!"

    "Hammer-Two, I want fusion now! Québec-Kilo-Eight-Niner!"

    "Yes, Ma'am! Ten count!"

    "All units, Gold-One! Fire in the hole in ten, nine, eight . . . !"

    Six low kiloton-range mortar rounds fell exactly on the zero mark, and every trooper in Fourth Battalion was belly-down in the deepest hole he or she could find as the earth beneath them bellowed and heaved.

    Atwater hated using them at all like hell, but she didn't have much choice. The battalion's air defenses had stopped most of the initial Melconian bombardment pretty much cold, and the Dog Boys' infantry units were much less lavishly equipped with fusion rounds than many of the opponents the Concordiat had fought over its long and bloody history. But three had gotten through, and they'd been hellishly accurate. Atwater knew the Melconians hadn't managed to get close-range recon drones over her position for at least three hours prior to their attack, nor had they even attempted to penetrate the battalion's defended airspace with manned recon units. Yet somehow, they had managed to score direct hits on her command post, one of her three anti-armor Hellbore sections, Captain Hearst's second mortar platoon (and Captain Hearst herself), and a quarter of Bravo Company. All three targets had been deeply dug in, and all of the battalion's personnel were in the best individual powered armor the Concordiat knew how to build, but there had been zero survivors from any of those three hits.

    Atwater had lost her command staff, her executive officer, and the battalion's main communications capability in the first twenty seconds of the attack. She herself was alive only because she'd been forward, consulting with Alpha Company's CO, at the moment the attack rolled in, and the confusion and temporary loss of cohesion that devastatingly accurate blow had delivered had allowed the Dogs to get the better part of a complete battalion across the fire zone Bravo Company was supposed to have covered. The enemy infantry and their APCs had paid a heavy price, but the survivors -- well over half of the troops they'd committed to the thrust -- had made it into the dead ground at the edge of Bravo's perimeter, and they'd been pushing hard to cut deeper through Bravo ever since. Now they were driving hard, spending their own lives like water in their frantic effort to break through.

    Which was why Bravo Company was down to twelve effectives . . . and why Mary Lou Atwater had just called down nuclear suppressive fire on top of her own survivors' position.

    She made herself watch her HUD as five of Bravo's remaining green icons turned crimson, then blinked out.

    These bastards just don't care, she thought, shoving herself upright in her hole once more. Dust, dirt, and debris slithered off her armor, and she checked her radiation counter. Thank God both humanity and the Dog Boys had learned how to make clean fusion weapons centuries ago! Between them, they'd popped off enough by now to have salted this valley with lethal-level poisoning for the next five or ten thousand years, if they'd still been using old-style weapons. Not that low radiation levels made the blast and thermal effects any easier to live with, even for itty-bitty things like mortar rounds.

    Not that anybody really cares about background radiation these days, a tiny corner of her brain thought even as the other ninety-five percent fought to sort out the situation. It looked like she'd at least stopped that breakthrough attempt, and it had probably cost the Dogs at least another fifty or sixty troopers. But what did she do about the hole?

    "Uniform-Seven, Gold-One. Get your people over to Québec-Kilo-Eight and shut the door on these fuckers!"

    "Gold-One, Uniform-Seven copies." Platoon Sergeant Fiona Sugiyama's voice sounded calmer than she could possibly be. But then, perhaps Atwater's did, too. "We're on our way."

    It's only a matter of time before one of these Puppies gets close enough to do us all with one of their big-assed demo charges, she told herself, following up her original thought. Whatever happens, they aren't going home, and they know it. So some floppy-eared son-of-a-bitch is going to come charging through here with a five or ten-megaton charge strapped to his back, and when he does --

    "Gold-One, I've got vehicle movement, Romeo-Mike sector," one of her remaining sensor teams reported. "Ground shocks're consistent with minimum one Heimdall and six-plus APCs!"

    "Shit!" Atwater muttered under her breath as the fresh icons dropped onto her HUD. Just what she didn't need with Sugiyama's people already committed. But at least it was relatively close to Rodriguez's anti-armor section. "Backstop-One, Gold-One. Watch your three o'clock! You've got company coming!"

    "Gold-One, Backstop-One copies," Rodriguez said tersely.

    Atwater punched a command into her chest pack, reconfiguring her HUD to show suspected enemy dispositions, and winced. They'd already killed at least an entire Concordiat battalion worth of the Melconians, but Fourth was getting ground away in the process. In another fifteen minutes -- half an hour, tops -- the surviving Dogs were going to grind right across what used to be Fourth Battalion, and the fact that they'd been so chewed up that the rest of Brigadier Jeffords' people would be able to swat them almost casually wasn't going to be much comfort to her people's ghosts. But what --

    A fresh, huge explosion thundered as Rodriguez's Hellbores nailed the Heimdall the instant its turret showed. But nine Melconian APCs were right behind the larger reconnaissance mech. They used the explosion itself for cover, driving through it at their maximum speed, and fire slammed back and forth in a knife-range shootout between Rodriguez's battery and the light armored vehicles.

    The Melconians won. Rodriguez's people killed six of them, but the other three turned the anti-armor battery into shattered wreckage and shredded flesh before the gunners could relay their weapons. Infantry spilled out of the three surviving APCs, firing short-range, man-portable anti-tank weapons at their armored human opponents. Eight more of Atwater's militiamen went down -- three of them dead, two of them dying -- before a hurricane of defensive fire cut down the Melconian infantry and picked off their vehicles.

    "Major, we've got more coming right behind them!" her sensor team commander shouted. "Here they --"

    The voice chopped off abruptly, another icon turned crimson, and Mary Lou Atwater snatched up a dead militiaman's plasma rifle. The rifle was a team-served weapon, with a minimum crew of two, according to the Book, but powered armor's exoskeleton had to be good for something . . . and she didn't have any damned body else to send.

    She started off at a dead run.

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image