Gunnery Sergeant Gwen Cunningham
Location: CWS Coral Sea, Rogue Island, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“Let’s go people, MOVE! Are you waiting for a fucking written invitation?” Gwen stood next to the rear ramp of the rumbling Spyder Assault Shuttle as a half of her company hustled into the belly of the beast.
The headquarters squad, a heavy weapons squad, and three regular squads boarded the bird at a run. Their heavy armored boots slapped the duro-steel planks of the Coral Sea’s flight deck like the drums of war. The five other squads of Echo Company were flowing into the bird next to Gwen’s, and it had a SSG yelling his own motivational incentives.
Down the line from Echo Company’s shuttles were six more shuttles loading three other companies from the 8552nd Infantry Battalion. Three hundred Commonwealth soldiers would be dropping onto Rogue Island on the Coral Sea’s first of three passes. No one expected any problems, but the fact that this was still considered a combat drop had everyone on edge.
CWS Coral Sea had popped out of FTL through the Alcubierre Launcher at Syracuse, this sector’s de-facto capitol. Gwen didn’t need to look at the sensors for more than a minute to notice the heavily industrialized system was on a war footing. Most of the system defense force’s wall units were concentrated in-system around the habitable planets and infrastructure. They would respond to any threats when their sensors registered FTL signatures. Commonwealth Fleet units were patrolling in force, but were close enough that they would be able to join with the defense force to defend the strategic locations.
Clearly identified lanes were marked throughout the system as its solar laser array test fired for probably the first time since the system was settled. She even saw a mine layer spewing mines and missile pods into space at strategic locations. So it wasn’t too big of a surprise when an outdated Cruiser jumping into the system received a lot of scrutiny. Even if it was only to switch over to their ship’s FTL drives and make the dozen light year jump to Rogue Island.
<Unless they’re expecting an attack.> She’d thought at the time.
<Not my job, not my problem.> She thought now as she counted heads and determined that everyone that was supposed to be on the shuttle was on the shuttle
She was in her LACS, looking lean and mean while still towering over everyone, including the lieutenant standing next to her. “We’re good to go, Sir. After you.”
The lieutenant, who was suited up in a full kit of Dragonscale Armor, just nodded his head and trudged up the ramp into the cargo hold. She’d seen the kid’s face before he’d donned his helmet, and the unhealthy green tinge to it made her pray that the boy leading this company didn’t blow chunks during the drop.
“We’re good,” she told the load master as she stomped up the ramp behind the LT.
The man nodded, and a high pitch whine signaled the ramp closing behind her.
“Everyone strap in! Equipment check!” she roared over the company network.
They’d drilled this a dozen times in Coral Sea’s VR simulators since learning this was going to be a combat drop, and she watched as her green company went through the motions.
It was important to be strapped in properly because one evasive maneuver or near-hit from a surface-to-air missile could knock you out of your seat and snap your neck like a twig. But even more important, you needed to have all of your shit when you hit the ground. You needed to be ready to fight.
The squad leaders toggled the acknowledgement of their orders, and within two minutes she had ten green indicators. That had to be good enough for her. Most of those squad leaders were just as green as the soldiers they were commanding, but she had to trust them on certain things. She couldn’t double-check all hundred soldiers to make sure the job was done right.
“All squads report ready to drop, Sir.” Since the LT was her battle buddy she did get to double-check his readiness, and he hers.
“Thanks, Gunney.” The man sounded like he’d been taking several deep breaths.
“Sir,” she switched over to their personal command channel for some privacy. “As far as first drops go, this one is going to be a cinch. It’s a mostly friendly world, limited evasive maneuvers will be necessary, and we’ll be on the ground within a minute. Nothing to worry about, Sir. The troops are ready.” She didn’t quite believe the last few words, but that was her problem to worry about not the junior LT’s.
“Thanks, Gunney.” The officer repeated before cutting the frequency and informing their pilot they were good to go.
The first part of her statement had been true. This should be an easy drop.
In the centuries since mankind started to spread out from the Sol System, and promptly started to kill each other throughout the galaxy, there were a number of different ways to get boots on the ground for an invading fleet. All of which depended on variables. The list was long, tedious, and listed in an FM somewhere, but it all boiled down to how quickly did the good guys need to get on the ground, and how much of a fight would the bad guys put up.
An ideal situation had a Commonwealth Fleet or Task Force in control of the planet’s orbitals. The enemy defensive fleet was either destroyed or had run from the system, and Commonwealth drones and atmospheric fighters had air dominance. The enemy’s defenses were already pounded to rubble, and for the most part they’d retreated to their planetary defense centers and were settling in for a siege. In this best case scenario, an assault carrier would descend through the atmosphere, land, and birth its brigade of troops onto the surface. This could be done with any warship in the fleet in any deployment pattern the brass wanted. . But from the soldiers’ point of view, they got to ride down to the planet on one of the toughest things in the galaxy. There really wasn’t much to worry about.
Of course, that was a tactician’s wet dream scenario. Gwen had yet to be in a landing that good, but she had ridden down to the surface within the protective hulls of warships before.
But that was not what they were doing today. They could have done that, and she would have preferred that, but the battalion commander wanted her soldiers one step closer to getting their drop badges, and she’d convinced the Cruiser’s captain that the situation on the planet was extreme enough to necessitate option number two.
Option number two was the first option that would qualify a soldier for the Basic Combat Drop Badge. Drop badges were something every soldier strived to achieve because that meant they’d been in the shit and come out the other side. There were different levels of badges, and you could get stars on top of them depending on how many drops you’d done, but option number two was the simplest set to get.
Option number two involved a ship, whatever ship that may be, skirting the atmosphere of the planet and disgorging Spyder Assault Shuttles. As fast moving mobile weapons platforms, the Spyders were a great way to get boots on the ground while facing minimal to moderate resistance. They could shoot down incoming ordinance and take drastic evasive action.
Gwen patted the hull of the bird whose belly she would ride down in. She’d always loved it when she knew a Spyder was nearby in support. The assault shuttles were vaguely arrowhead shaped, but with three sets of wings jutting out to the sides. This made it look vaguely like a spider, thus the name.
It had a duro-steel hull with limited nanite armor for added defense. They didn’t rate high enough to get a full coating. Often times, you’d find a lot of them with polyceramic plating in key locations the pilots felt were important.
Each of its wings had various ordinances on them: hypervelocity air to air or air to surface missiles and chaff. There was also a nose gun under the pilot’s control, and a rear gunner with a plasma repeater to give cover fire when troops unloaded. It could carry fifty normal grunts, but when you started to get into HI and some of the specialists with all their equipment that number got cut down.
Just as important for this mission was the Spyder’s speed. Not only could it go supersonic, but each wing was equipped with a grav-generator. The two-pilot team could manipulate gravity to their will and pull some truly incredible evasive maneuvers if they needed to. It wasn’t always good news for the guys in the back because of the limited gravity dampeners, but people rarely died on drops due to pure G-force. When push came to shove the fifty-ton war fighting machines were still one of the infantry’s best friends.
These were what most combat jumps involved, and completing five drops of this nature qualified a soldier for the Basic Combat Drop Badge. The badge was a bright silver color, consisted of the front profile of a Spyder Assault Shuttle, and appeared above the medals and ribbons on the left pectoral of the CMUs.
There was a third option for drops, an option that got any soldier who survived a single drop the gold Master Combat Drop Badge. Gwen had one of those drop badges, and getting it had been one of the most terrifying moments of her life. She was incredibly grateful that they hadn’t even considered that kind of drop.
The third entry option was used on heavily defended targets. It involved a fleet stuffing five soldiers into fire-team pods, loading them into missile launchers, and firing them into the planet’s atmosphere. The objective was to get on the ground as soon as possible. The five-man pods shot down to the surface like meteors on crack. They were fired amidst chaff countermeasures, electronic decoys, and drones providing defensive fire. Spyders and atmospheric fighters from both sides would still duking it out for control of the sky, and energy cannon salvos would be slugging back and forth between the orbital fleet and planetary PDCs.
She could still remember getting sealed into the literal sarcophagus with four other soldiers. She’d hyperventilated when it happened, and nearly pissed herself. She’d been fired into the atmosphere and nearly blacked out from the G-force. The pod shook like God was trying to strangle it, and heated up to the point she could actually see the normally pitch-black inside. Then she’d felt a jerk that nearly broke her legs, and then the pod smashed into the ground. One of the members of the fire-team had broken their spine on impact because he didn’t brace properly when the reverse thrusters failed to fire and the emergency chute deployed late.
After all of that, they’d had to get out, regroup, and fight the Blockies. Once she’d lived through that drop, she signed up for HI, got the enhancements and then went to Ranger School. She never wanted to feel so weak and helpless again. Little did she know SOCOM did those types of drops all the time, but their pods were stealth pods and they inserted without anyone knowing. She’d greatly preferred those drops to the living hell she’d endured as a regular grunt.
Gwen shook her head to get rid of those toxic memories. <I need to focus.> She had ninety-nine people counting on her to get them through this. Even if it was supposed to be easy.
“Howdy, everyone. Welcome to LoneStar drop ship services. . .”
<Oh shit.> Gwen felt her hands grab the frame of her seat until it groaned in protest.
There were a few things that she’d picked up throughout her time in the service. First, was to never trust a supply sergeant in a card game. Second, was to always bend your knees. It didn’t matter what for, it was just always better. Last but not least, was to never go on an assault drop with a pilot from Texas. There was just something hardwired into their DNA. They were all fucking crazy.
“We are currently over the drop chute and are first in line. We are the tip of the spear today ladies and gentlemen. So just sit back, relax, and…” The guy never finished.
Gwen felt her feet fly into her throat as they dropped and then were smashed with the force of the atmosphere. She immediately cut the comm chatter and focused on medical statuses while she gritted her teeth.
Everyone’s blood pressure and heart rate were through the roof, but that was to be expected. They all had about five G’s pushing them against their seats. Even with enhancements that was uncomfortable.
She kept on eye on the medical readings while toggling over to the shuttle’s sensors. Normal soldiers weren’t given access to the outside world in the middle of the drop, but being a company NCOIC had its perks.
Superheated plasma was leaving a fiery trail across the sky as Spyders sliced toward their destination. The rear sensor showed the glowing behemoth of Coral Sea skating the upper atmosphere, but as she watched it she sighed in relief. The Cruiser wasn’t firing on anything, which was awesome.
Steady chatter was going back and forth between their Texan, the other Spyder pilots, Coral Sea, and the 8552nd command staff. She half-listened to it as she watched the sensors and monitored her own people.
<Looks like it won’t be too bad after all.>
“Launch detected.” Their pilot stated nonchalantly just as Gwen was starting to feel good about this drop. “Laser guided, supersonic, coming in at five-six degrees to starboard, ETA ten seconds, initiating evasive actions.”
Gwen had time to brace, but the rest of the squads didn’t. The Texan made their initial drop feel like a leisurely walk in the park. She watched one by one as her soldiers nearly lost consciousness. She was barely able to hold on, and she got to watch as the nose gun of the second Spyder in the descent spit out a wall 40mm exploding lead that blew the incoming, antiquated missile out of the sky five hundred meters from its target. They still felt the shockwave of the explosion, but they were alive.
“Target neutralized, nothing else on radar. Continuing mission.”
She felt the pressure ease and her people started to shake off the fog of near unconsciousness.
“Hey, Specialist, easy on the stick. I need my people functional so when we land we can actually do something.”
“Roger that, Gunney.” The pilot didn’t sound sorry at all. “Landing in two mikes, so be ready.”
She didn’t have any time to waste. “Two minutes!” she yelled, startling the last people out of their mental fog. “Secure equipment and prepare to disembark.”
All three companies were being dispersed across the planet. Echo Company’s mission was to secure an old fort outside the coastal city of Oldport. It was an abandoned Commonwealth outpost, so they had no idea what they were walking into. But they had a plan.
“One minute!” Everyone was ready to jump into the middle of a fire fight if they needed to.
“Lowering ramp,” the pilot announced forty seconds later.
The high-pitched whine of the hydraulics was drowned out by the roar of air. The rear gunner in the gunner’s turret swung out into the opening and scanned the area for the last twenty seconds of the Spyder’s descent before it abruptly touched down outside the old fort. This was the most dangerous part of the drop. A Spyder was at its most vulnerable when it was loading or unloading troops on the ground.
“Clear!” The gunner yelled, automatically moving his turret off to the side to give them fire support while they unassed from the shuttle.
“GO!” Gwen’s yell was superfluous as the soldiers jumped to their feet and rushed out of the Spyder.
They’d trained on this, and the squads executed perfectly. They ran out and formed a large three hundred and sixty degree circle around the Spyder. They all looked outward and kept their eyes open for any approaching threats.
“Good luck.” The Texan drawled as the Spyder lifted back up on its anti-gravs. Once it was about a hundred meters in the air it shot back up toward its rendezvous point with Coral Sea. He had two more runs to make, and after seeing their warm welcome they might be a lot more interesting.
“Squad leaders let me know when you’re up.” Gwen sat in the center of the circle with the LT and their commo specialist.
Green indicators came back.
“Good. First and second squad move to the fort followed by third, fourth, and fifth. I want complete security over the sight before the next drop lands.” LT Maddox took over, and his authority surprised her.
“Heavy weapons cover the road.” Gwen detailed their heavily armed squad to cover the most likely avenue of approach.
The remaining squad leaders received their orders, and they moved out.
The fort had been abandoned, so Gwen didn’t expect much, but she didn’t expect the locals to have taken a literal shit on it.
<Home sweet home.> She thought, and was glad she was in armor that filtered the rancid stench out of the air.