Gunnery Sergeant Gwen Cunningham
Location: FOB Oldport, Rogue Island, United Commonwealth of Colonies
They had a couple of minutes to get organized before company arrived. The four rhinos were being tracked by STRATNET and a digitized countdown to their arrival appeared on Gwen’s HUD.
<Two minutes.> She quickly scanned the Company’s ready status with her armor and started issuing orders.
“Squad leaders, tell me when you’re up. Give me at least a heavy weapon on the other three berms. We don’t want them to catch us with our pants down. Michaelson, get over here.”
Private Michaelson had the best and worst job depending on how you looked at it. He’d been selected at random to be Gwen’s shadow. It was his job to make sure the company’s only HI asset was ready to rock and roll. He also doubled as a protective detail in case Gwen needed to execute fire missions while the FOB was being breeched. Getting that much face time with the company NCOIC was only going to do good things for the PVT’s career as long as he was good at his job.
On the down side, sitting next to the HI trooper without the defensive benefits of a LACS, and handling highly explosive ordinance wasn’t the safest occupation in the military. It wasn’t as big a deal on Rogue Island, because they were facing a force with inferior technology, but normally it wasn’t a great thing to be assigned to an HI trooper. People tended to get blown up doing the job.
Gwen made sure the PVT was following her and went to find a good position. There wasn’t much cover, and she’d have to constantly move to avoid counterfire, so she set up shop in an open area where she still had line of sight to the front berm. That way she’d see for herself if anyone was stupid enough to attack a fortified position held by a company of Commonwealth soldiers.
The squad leaders toggled back their replies and green indicators popped up showing they were all good to go.
“Stay frosty, Echo Company.” LT Maddox motivated over the company net as the four-vehicle caravan broke into the clearing around the FOB and spread out.
Gwen watched through the eyes of the troopers on the berm as the four lightly-armored vehicles created their own firing line extending the length of the front berm. Soldiers in green fatigues and manning what looked like old MK-22 grenade launchers stuck out of the top hatches of the rhinos.
The MK-22s were a rapid-fire 20mm grenade launcher. They were great for suppressing large formations of enemy troops, or large riots, nearly a century and a half ago. At the time they were totally bad ass, but their effectiveness was severely limited by modern armor. A soldier in scales could take a direct hit from the grenades and keep fighting. But still, they were grenade launchers, and having dozens of round flying through the air wasn’t good for people’s health.
The four soldiers in the gunners hatches were wearing old laminate armor shells. The laminate had been big back when energy weapons had first appeared on the scene and most militaries had converted. The laminate could absorb and deflect a lot of a laser’s power, but was less effective against projectile ammunition.
When the starfaring nations took a dual stance on ammunition the laminate armor had been discontinued. It might stop a ricochet from an M3, but a direct hit was going to punch through it and the man wearing it.
The passenger’s door of the middle right rhino popped open and a man waving a white flag hopped out.
“Weapons hold. Remember the ROE. They’ve got to shoot first.” Gwen reminded the soldiers aiming modern weaponry at the opposing force.
“I’d like to speak with your commander!” The man with the white flag yelled with authority.
Gwen zoomed in to get a better look at him. He was a pretty big guy, with a pretty big gut, but it made him look powerfully built rather than fat. He had a big, bushy red beard that she could see behind the armorplast visor of his armored helmet, and it was clear he wasn’t one of the high value targets.
Unlike the guys in laminate shells, their leader was wearing ceramic plating. Ceramic armor was lightweight enough to be worn by people without enhancement, and still effective against projectile and energy ammunition. It had been discontinued about fifty years ago when the Commonwealth perfected their medical procedures and developed Dragonscale. Still, it was effective enough that a few rounds from a M3 would be needed to punch through it.
For the leader to be wearing this he had to be pretty important or pretty rich. Either way, it was a good idea to talk to him.
“I’m the company commander.” LT Maddox popped his head up over the berm.
Gwen nearly face palmed. <Don’t tell him our strength, idiot.>
“Keep the details to a minimum, Sir.” Was what she sent to the LT over a private channel.
“My name is General Christopher Wood, Commander, Oldport Citizens’ Militia.” The bearded man replied.
<General.> Gwen knew the rank hadn’t been used for centuries. But she knew why the guy was using it. <Step one of a separatist movement is to separate yourself from the old establishment. Differentiation is important, as is creating your own rules, behaviors, and norms. I bet the guy even has stars on his shoulders.> She couldn’t tell with the armor on, but she’d bet good money on it.
“How may I help you, General Wood,” the LT replied diplomatically.
“Usually, it is polite to introduce yourself when someone has rendered you the courtesy.” The General shot back.
Gwen rolled her eyes, but noticed the power play for what it was.
“Lieutenant Martin Maddox, Commonwealth Infantry.”
“Lieutenant Maddox.” The general nodded. “I’m here to discuss your troops trespassing on our land.”
“There is no trespassing, Sir. Despite what you or your government might say, this is still Commonwealth territory. And until otherwise ordered, I will maintain this property.” The LT showed some backbones and stared down the general.
“I’m sorry to hear you disagree with our politics.” The general shook his head.
“It’s not my job to agree or disagree, Sir. But I took an oath to obey the orders of those appointed over me, and that is what I am going to do.” The LT stood up on the berm, which was tactically stupid, but it made for a picture-perfect moment.
“I can respect a man of honor.” The general nodded to the LT. “But I will not tolerate further encroachment of our sovereignty. You are ordered by the Citizens’ Militia to remain at this location until further notice. Furthermore, you will lay down your weapons and let the citizens of this planet go about their business as they see fit. This is your only warning, Lieutenant.”
“And I don’t take orders from you.” The LT and general engaged in a staring match for a few seconds, but it was hard for the older man to stare at the faceless, nanite-scaled helmet of the LT’s armor.
“You’ve been warned.” The general made the “load-up” circling motion with his hand and the four rhinos started to reverse and turn in synchronized coordination.
The general hopped back in the passenger side of his rhino and the four-vehicle caravan drove back down the access road. STRATNET tracked them all the way to the main road before they exited the sensor’s range.
“That went better than I thought.” The LT and most of the soldiers on the front berm marched down the elevated earth.
“They weren’t going to start anything with four vehicles and in armor we could turn into Swiss cheese. No, they were getting a feel for us, a feel for you, and trying to get a look at our capabilities.”
<And if they know anything about modern military organization, you told them there are only a hundred of us here.> Gwen left that part out.
“I’m interested to see what happens next,” she said mostly to herself.
“Whatever it is, we’ll be ready, Gunney. I want you to set up a watch schedule, at least twenty five percent of the company on duty and on the berms at all times. I want those swatters set up, and you to be ready to bring down the rain at a moment’s notice. When they come they’re going to come in numbers.”
Gwen agreed with the LT’s assessment. The only way they could take the FOB was with overwhelming numbers. <And a shit ton of people are going to die in the process.> She needed to think of any way to avoid that.
“Sir, radio in to HQ that we made contact with the local militia. I’ll get our men into position.”
She left the officer to do officer stuff, and she went to work getting the FOB ready. It was rapidly getting dark and she needed to have those swatters up an hour ago, so while three squads maintained security, another four set up the stationary anti-air batteries. She used her suits’ neural network to run diagnostics and do systems tests by throwing pieces of fruit into the air. It got turned into a fine yellow mist by the high-velocity rounds.
With the defenses set up, she broke the company into three eight-hour watches, designated a watch NCO to supervise two of the three, and then finally grabbed some chow.
Her stomach growled with the hunger that always followed a combat drop, securing a position, and a tense conversation with the locals. She scarfed down the stew-like substance after hitting the auto-heat feature and letting it heat to a palatable luke-warm. Then she headed into the ops center. The LT was present talking with higher, the commo SGT was trying to boost their signal and listen in on the local’s comms, and the company armor specialist was finishing up reassembling the class five fabricator. That was who she needed to see.
“Specialist.” She walked up behind the soldier who’d decided to dedicate her career to one specific thing rather than become a traditional NCO. “Give me the run down on what we can make with this thing.”
Fabricators were tricky. Some were used for general production of items, and other for more specifics. A class five fabricator was used for ammunition, but it could only create the ammunition whose designs were loaded into its databanks.
“We can make anything we need to shoot, Gunney.” The specialist had her helmet off and was brushing short strands of hair out of her eyes. “I’m about to start up a batch of one mike mike. Do you want anything in particular?”
“Can you make me a hundred and twenty forty millimeter diggers?”
Diggers were jargon for 40mm sensor grenades fired from an M3’s grenade launcher. The grenades would dig into the ground and create a sensor bubble. What Gwen wanted to do was get enough launched so the company had complete three hundred and sixty degree eyes on their surroundings. That way no one could sneak up on them.
“A hundred and twenty. That’s a tall order, Gunney. The LT wants us to have a reserve…”
“A reserve is all well and good, Specialist, but what good is it if we can’t see what we’re shooting at until it’s too late.” Those words got through to the junior NCO.
“Yes, Gunney. A hundred and twenty diggers are going to take an hour.”
“Thanks, Specialist. Then get to work on those one mike mikes. I’m sure we’re going to need them.”
An hour later and the yellow dwarf at the center of Rogue Island’s system had fallen beneath the horizon, and forty soldiers equipped with the 40mm attachment on their M3s were in the prone position along the berms. There were ten per berm space roughly ten meters apart, which would give complete coverage for the hundred-by-hundred meter box the berms created.
“Each of you has three rounds,” Gwen detailed their mission. “I want you to put a ring of them at one kilometer.” Targeting icons appeared across the soldiers’ HUDs showing them where to fire. It was a simple mission that even the greenest soldier should be able to accomplish. “Load one round…aim…fire.”
There was a series of thumps as forty 40mm grenades went sailing a kilometer into the distance.
“Comms, prepare for data link.”
All forty grenades hit where they were supposed to, dug into the ground, and started to transmit.
“Good link, Gunney. Updating.” A few seconds later and a border one kilometer out sprang to life on everyone’s HUD.
“Follow designated fire pattern.” The LACS computer updated the best placement of the diggers to get maximum coverage.
Two more volleys went down range and not ten minutes after firing the first round, Echo Company had a comprehensive sensor bubble out to one kilometer. No one was going to be sneaking up on them anytime soon.
With her last mission completed, Gwen partook in one of the military’s oldest traditions.
Hurry up and wait.
Now, the company had to sit back and wait for something to happen.
They didn’t have to wait long.
“Gunney, this is Six-One, I’ve got movement on the road.” The squad leader for sixth squad, the squad currently watching the western berm radioed in.
Gwen jerked so hard she almost fell out of the charging rack. She was still in her armor since she needed to be ready to go at a moment’s notice, but that wasn’t a problem. She’d learned to sleep in full battlerattle back in Ranger School.
“I’m on the way. Is the LT aware, Six-One?” Gwen checked her armor’s clock and it showed that they were only three hours into Gwen’s eight hour shift off, but she was at a hundred percent power now.
Sixth squad’s squad leader was a corporal who might not have given the heads up to the officer yet.
“I’ve got it, Six-One. Keep an eye on that road.”
Gwen called the LT, but he was already up an in the ops center. All he had to do was watch the STRATNET holo to see the vehicles in question. The road was inside the sensor bubble she’d established three hours ago.
She linked up with the LT as he marched out of the building and toward the roadside berm. “Sir, we’ve got a six-vehicle convoy moving at sixty kilometers per hour.” Gwen knew he was seeing the same thing on his HUD, but reporting a situation was a force of habit.
The front and rear vehicles were rhinos. The sensors painted the vehicles as they passed and gave Gwen a comprehensive look at everything. For instance, these weren’t armed with the MK-22s, these had long-barreled, late twenty-first century heavy machine guns mounted on the roofs. She didn’t know what museum they’d looted those from, but the weapon’s information popped on her screen and told her the FOB was in their effective range.
“Keep your heads down.” She sent out a warning to sixth squad.
The sensors also gave them a good shot through the vehicles windows. It wasn’t a full picture, but from what it collected her suit was able to determine there was a squad of infantry present in each of them, and they all seemed to be armed with M1s.
M1s were the grandfather of the M3 and the first generation of electromagnetic rifle. Compared to an M3 they sucked. The firing rate was slower, the muzzle velocity was lower, the battery life was impractical for the battlefield, and you had to change out the barrel ever few hundred rounds because it would overheat from all the pressure. The kickback on the things was a bitch too. Later versions had been updated as technology advanced, but the M1s were generally considered a stopgap in electromagnetic rifle production before the better M2 came along. So of course, a lot of the leftover M1s got shipped off to the colonies and found homes with militias like the one trying to drive a force by the FOB.
“I’m seeing four buses, approximately thirty soldiers per bus, Gunney.” The LT was tapped into the same data feed, so they both saw an over-strength company driving off to do exactly what Echo Company’s orders were to prevent. “It could be an ADVON for a large force?”
“Or they’re testing us, Sir.” Gwen thought she was right, but the LT’s thought had merit.
“Either way, we can’t let them pass.”
Gwen wanted to argue with him, but she couldn’t. Her 125mm cannon and the 80mm mortars would turn that convoy into flaming wreckage in seconds. Their outdated machine guns might have the range, but they weren’t going to hit anyone behind the berm. It was like shooting fish in a barrel, and she held the shotgun.
“The ROE gives us the right to engage.” The LT turned to her. “Our mission is to stop a linkup like this between Oldport and other cities’ militias. Prepare to fire, that’s an order, Gunney.”
Gwen bristled slightly at the LT’s choice of words, but she knew what she had to do. Her neural network was already connected to the 80mm mortars, so she opened up their menus and synchronized them with her 125mm cannon. The autoloaders loaded HE rounds into the tubes. With STRATNET up, and the smart computers on the shells, she didn’t even have to plot a grid coordinate for the fire mission.
<They’re taunting us.> There was no other reason for the convoy to be driving at sixty when the rhinos could pull one-fifty. None of the vehicles were air-mobile, but with a flat, clean road to drive on they should be doing more than sixty. <Shit.>
“What are you waiting for, Gunney? Fire!” The LT had his hands on his hips and was staring at her.
“Company, everyone up. I want one hundred percent security on the berms. Move!” She ordered over the company net.
“Do your job, Gunney, and fire!”
Gwen’s head snapped toward the LT, and she projected her face on the officer’s HUD. She saw the man gulp slightly at the murder in her eyes.
“Don’t lecture me about doing my job, Sir. I not worried about that. What I’m worried about is what comes next.” She bent her knees and absorbed the recoil of two rounds fired from her cannon in rapid succession.
Nearby the 80mm’s soft booms joined the chorus.
She staggered the shots perfectly, so the convoy didn’t even stand a chance. Simultaneously, all six HE rounds roared through the windshields of the vehicles and exploded. Armor tore, reinforced glass shattered, and people were engulfed in flaming death. One second the over-strength company was driving down the road, the next they were either dead or trapped in flaming coffins they’d never escape.
A few screams echoed across the empty space between destruction and the FOB for maybe a minute before they all fell silent.
“Yes, Gunney.” The armorer’s side of the channel was noisy with a churning mechanical sound.
“You better start pumping out one mike mikes like your life depends on it.” She turned to the LT with cold, stern eyes. “Because I guarantee you in the next few hours we’re going to need every round we can get our hands on.”