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One Good Soldier: Chapter Four

       Last updated: Friday, September 25, 2009 21:53 EDT



July 1, 2394 A.D.
Sol System, Mars
Saturday, 7:40 AM, Earth Eastern Standard Time

    Ramy’s Robots 3rd Armored E-suit Marines Forward Recon Unit had bounced alongside the Army tankheads for more than three hours since the wargames had started. They had done some fighting along the way against the Red Team AEMs, Army Armored Infantry (AAI), and Army tankheads that had dropped on them from the Lincoln and the Tyler, and they had come out on top with only minor losses. The sky was filled with Marine and Navy mecha zigging and zagging through the thin atmosphere leaving ion trails. Simulated tracer rounds and explosions continuously filled the sky. Modern day wargames looked a lot like the real thing, minus the blood and the terror. For tried and true soldiers who had tested their mettle in real combat, wargames generated little more than the urgency to learn new skills or to sharpen old ones. They were so far from the real thing simply because the possibility of death was absent. But wargaming did make the soldiers more proficient in the case of real war and each and every time they were given the opportunity to wargame they brought their A-game. What a soldier might learn in a wargame might just payoff in some real situation and save a life or two.

    First Sergeant Tamara McCandless and Staff Sergeant Tommy Suez had seen the real thing and both of them fully expected that the real thing was coming again sooner than most people wanted to admit. The two Marines felt compelled to take the games seriously because neither of them wanted to end up a casualty of the real thing when it came. Besides that, there was team pride at stake. The flagship crew couldn’t let themselves be defeated by other ships in the fleet.

    Suez and McCandless led two small squads of AEMs ahead of the Blue Team by a couple of kilometers to feel out the enemy attack plan. They had bounced point across the red dusty cold desert of Mars mostly through overwhelming odds all day. But that was just the way that Colonel Roberts always liked it and was probably the reason that he had volunteered the Robots to be the tip of the spear. The colonel was at the rear of the forward Recon unit. Warlord One of the tankheads guided the attack from a better sensor vantage point mostly because he had lost a game of rock-paper-scissors with the first sergeant as to who got to lead the attack.

    It wasn’t uncommon for Colonel Roberts to be out in front of his Robots charging into hell, but this time strategy – and the rules of rock-paper-scissors – dictated that he bounce in with the second wave. As soon as the forward teams figured out where the enemy were Roberts would lead the tankheads in to overwhelm the Red Team forces holding down the objective. Sensors showed a static force already occupying the hill, but they had yet to offer any resistance at close range. The original plan was to break through the perimeter front lines, which they did about an hour earlier, and then take and hold the objective.

    Tommy understood the attack plan well. They really didn’t even need to go over it in detail during the mission prebrief since it was a simple take and hold. The simulation scenario was that there was an important square half-kilometer on a very small and rocky hill in the Hellas Basin just north of the Southern Polar Cap, for no particular reason designated to be the end goal of the wargame. If Tommy Suez had anything to say about it, the Blue Team, which included only the crew and soldiers from the Sienna Madira, was going to win. Tommy and two other Robots took the right side of the hill while Top had taken a squad up the other side. Tommy bounced ten to thirty meters and took cover. Corporal Bates would leapfrog him and take cover. Then Private First Class Rondi Howser would leapfrog them both and the process would start all over. Unless they encountered resistance, the plan was to continue the cover advance until they landed on the central coordinates of the objective zone.

    As far as the staff sergeant could see, there was nothing but rocks, some red dirt, and occasionally some Martian hybrid grasses adding a faint splash of green to the landscape. No trees grew that far south, which meant that, unfortunately, the only cover was the rocks or going underground. What concerned him most was the fact that his QM sensors in his e-suit visor were showing enemy troops all around them, but he couldn’t find them visually. There was no motion, no enemy fire, no traffic on the wireless, nothing. Tommy got a bad vibe from that and he didn’t like getting bad vibes.

    “Top, where the hell are they? You see ‘em?” he asked through the QM communications tac-net. He hoped the senior enlisted soldier would have a better viewing angle from her location further up the hill and to the left. Tommy did a belly slide up to a boulder throwing a red dust rooster tail up behind him. He quickly rose up to a knee with his HVAR scanning the horizon. The dust settled slowly in the Martian gravity and threw sparkles of sunlight around them in a brilliant display of flashes. The green targeting X in his visor scanned from rock to rock across the desert looking for a target, a hostile target, hell, anything to shoot at.

    “Got anything, Sarge?” Private First Class Rondi Howser slid in behind him quickly raising to her knees with her weapon at the ready. “I can’t see shit with all this dust and smoke scattered about from the fireworks and the smokers.”

    “I don’t see a damned thing,” Corporal Danny Bates added as he slid in beside them. He lost his balance and fell visor first into the ground. Dust flew up around them as they came to a halt. PFC Howser tried not to laugh.

    “I don’t see them either, private. Keep the QM, IR, and lidar sensors pinging away. They’re out there. We just have to find them and kill them. Nothing to it.” Tommy continued to scan visually and compare what he was seeing to the sensor overlays, but he still had no better information than any of the other Marines on that hill.

    “Where the shit are they, Tommy?” Danny asked. The two of them had served together since the Oort and had become friends over the years. PFC Howser was new to the team and they had yet to determine how good she was. But so far, Danny had been having a hard time keeping up with her. Tommy thought that was funny and dangerous and had warned Bates a few times that any chauvinistic attitudes could get him killed if they were in the real shit. Danny wouldn’t admit to the bravado, but the fact that Tommy had to warn him of it was hopefully enough to shake him out of it.

    “Keep it frosty, Suez.” First Sergeant Tamara McCandless warned him. “I don’t have them on eyeball, but my sensors are dinging like crazy, too. They’re here. Be ready for an ambush.”

    “Bates, get your ass up and keep your head on. Top can’t see them either, but they’re here and about to invite us to a party we didn’t care to join.” Tommy looked back at the young private. “Stay alert, Howser.”

    “I’m frosty, Sarge,” she said. And as far as Tommy could tell the young Marine was as frosty as a beer mug. She had the makings of a really good AEM. But only the test of real combat could determine that.

    Tommy looked across the landscape and then again at the sensor overlay. The sensors showed return signals from potential targets just ahead of them and scattered about almost randomly. There was no method to the distribution that he could see. There was no front, no perimeter, no flanking positions, nothing that made any military sense. The signal locations looked to him almost like the Blue Team troops were just peppered into place on top of the little hill with no defense plan. It didn’t make any sense because Tommy had wargamed with other crews before and had actually fought with them at the Battle of the Oort and he knew that American troops are so well trained that this wasn’t the type of stand they would make.

    Any ideas? he thought to his AIC.

    I’m just as confused as you. I will say that an analysis of the signals since we started detecting them shows them as not having moved a centimeter in the last thirty minutes.

    Weird, Tommy thought.

    “Suez, we can’t just wait this out. I just got word from the colonel that the Blair has just popped into orbit from hyperspace. We’re gonna get in the shit really damned quick.” First Sergeant McCandless said over the net. “I think it is time to take the fucking hill, Marines.”

    “You got it, Top,” Tommy replied. Tommy motioned to his squad to fan out and move forward. Then he stood and slapped his jumpboots against the ground for a bigger bounce. The boots of the armored suit pounded against the ground storing energy in the repulsor fields in the soles and then released the energy slinging him sixty meters forward and twenty meters high. From that vantage point he could see the enemy AEMs spread about the hill. All of them were lying down. Some of them were in prone position, others on their backs, and some of them were on their sides rolled up. Tommy rolled over into a forward flip landing on his feet coming down to his right knee. Bates and Howser landed nearby and he could see Top and her squad hitting ground to the left synchronized with them. Tommy rushed one of the suits firing a few simulated rounds into it. As he approached it he kicked it over onto its back and realized that there was nobody in the armored e-suit.

    “What the, fuck?” he grumbled. “Top, the suits are empty!”

    “Same here, Suez,” Top replied.

    “Tommy, all of them are empty,” Bates informed him as he bounced from suit to suit rapidly with his rifle swinging madly about looking for live targets.

    “What does it mean, Staff Sergeant?” PFC Howser bounced beside him and sounded a bit nervous.

    “No clue, private. Somebody is trying to be clever here. But clever how, I’m not sure.” Tommy would have scratched his chin to ponder had he not been in an e-suit and had years of training in them not removed such habits from his repertoire. “Better stay alert.”

    “Top, what’s your status?” Colonel Roberts asked over the tac-net.

    “We have the objective, Colonel.” Tamara answered him with a hint of uncertainty in her voice. “We’ve met no resistance so far, sir.”

    Tommy bounced his team twice to meet the first sergeant in the middle of the objective coordinates. They had the hill, but for some strange reason it was littered with empty AEM suits from one of the Blue Team ships. If there was some tactic or strategy being played Tommy didn’t get it. Then it hit him almost at once as there was a strange hissing sound rattling his suit and then a brilliant flash of light all around them. A brief instant later they were surrounded by a hundred or more Blue Team Marines with their weapons drawn.

    We’re surrounded, Tommy! his AIC shouted into his mind.

    Holy shit! They’ve got us and will take the hill. We have to do something now!


    “Staff Sergeant Tommy Suez authorizing suit auto-destruct now, now, now!” Tommy shouted over the net not for his squad or Top’s squad to hear because they would be dead. He announced the order over the tac-net so Colonel Roberts would know what happened and how to react. Tommy just hoped that his sacrifice would do enough damage to the enemy force that had just appeared from nowhere to give Colonel Roberts and Colonel Warboys enough advantage to hold the hill.

    “Suez, what the fuck are you doing?!” McCandless turned to him with a horrified look on her face and shouted at him. But it was too late, Tommy had already given the order to his suit to detonate.

    “Sorry, Top. I didn’t see anybody else thinking of anything brilliant, so I took action.” Tommy more than half expected the first sergeant to tear into him. He braced himself for the onslaught and verbal defilement, but it didn’t come.

    “Well fucking shit!” is all Tamara managed to get out and then she kicked at a boulder with her jumpboots. Tommy watched her as she realized that all the Blue Team forces around them were cursing and kicking at boulders as well and realizing that their weapons had been locked out. Then the top sergeant seemed to settle down. Tommy almost thought he heard her laugh.

    “Top,” Tommy dared to add thinking the entire time that he should just leave well a-goddamned-nuff alone. But his brain was slower than his mouth, so his mouth just kept on talking though his brain knew better. “That’ll teach ‘em to attack Ramy’s Robots outnumbering us more than ten to one. Oh, the carnage.”

    “Oh, the humanity,” Corporal Bates added. He had never been smart enough to keep his mouth shut as long as Tommy had known the Marine.

    “You two, don’t try my fucking patience,” Tamara shot them a stern look they could barely make out through her visor.

    “Got it, Top.”

    The simulation referee AICs officially announced to all attack teams in the simulation that all troops within a two hundred meter radius of Red Team’s Staff Sergeant Tommy Suez were all dead. Tommy could just imagine how the captain of the Blair must be reacting to the sim refs’ announcement. The troops who had teleported down from the Blair never had a chance to fire a single shot before their weapons were locked out and they were reported as killed in action.

    As far as Tommy could see it, he had done his job. He had kept the Blue Team from taking the hill under overwhelming circumstances, for now. It would be up to Roberts and Warboys from there on to hold it. Tommy found a big rock and sat down on it.

    “What do we do now, Sarge?” PFC Howser asked him.

    “Nothing, private. We’re dead.”

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