Gunnery Sergeant Gwen Cunningham
Location: FOB Oldport, Rogue Island, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“Anything you can grab that’ll hold up against a bullet. I want them here, here, here, and here.” She marked points on her tactical map and sent them to the soldiers detailed to her.”
“Those are some large gaps to cover, Gunney.”
“I know. Do the best you can. There’s a lot of steel material in these buildings. They’ve got desks, chairs, file cabinets. Use them.”
The small detail scattered to execute the orders of their armored NCOIC. Gwen took the moment to close her eyes and count to ten. It had been an hour since she’d turned a convoy of six vehicles and over a hundred people into flaming wreckage. It was what she was supposed to do, it was what she was ordered to do, and it was what the mission called for; but it still felt like killing a bunch of people who couldn’t even put up a fight.
<That’s going to change soon.> She thought the purpose of the convoy in the first place was to test the resolve of the FOBs defenders. <And we’ve drawn a line in the sand that we can’t come back from.>
She knew, some of her squad leaders knew it, but she wasn’t sure the LT was on board yet. He’d spent the last twenty minutes in communication with Battalion HQ discussing their brief fire mission.
“Gunney, what’s going on?” Two of the soldiers she’d sent inside to grab material came back out hauling a metal desk and trailing the LT.
“Preparation for what?”
<Deep breath. Breathe in through the nose…breathe out through the mouth…> She’d learned the relaxation technique long ago, and she needed it now more than ever.
“Sir. We just dropped ordinance against a numerically superior enemy force who made the effort to come all the way out to our little FOB and tell us to mind our own business. They are going to retaliate, and we need to be ready when they do.”
“Yes, that.” The LT had his helmet off, so she could see him blush slightly. “Ok, bring me up to speed.”
“Sir.” She rolled her eyes, but was at least glad he was getting involved instead of lauding his accomplishments to the LCDR five hundred kilometers away. “We have a fixed outer perimeter with the berms and eyes out for a kilometer. What we need to think about is…”
“Fallback positons.” The officer interrupted her. “We need an inner perimeter.”
<At least he stayed awake in Defensive Tactics 101.>
“The buildings here offer the optimum outline for a second perimeter.” She pointed to what she was talking about.
The earth berms made a roughly football field sized interior that was FOB Oldport. They’d designated the back portion of the FOB as the Spyder LZ, and had a comparatively sized space at the front that was probably used for vehicle parking when the FOB was last occupied a century or two ago. Now, that front space was filled with men coming down off the berms or going up during a shift change.
The middle of the FOB was occupied by four, square, two-story, concrete buildings. The soldiers were quartered in two of them, one was the HQ building, and the fourth had been turned into a makeshift storage center and armory. It was cramped accommodations, but it was the best they had.
The four buildings were set up to look like a giant square with five meter openings pointing in the cardinal directions. To properly defend the buildings, they’d need to block those four openings. Once that was done they’d effectively have a walled compound with those walls being the buildings themselves and whatever they could cobble together.
“It they break through over the berms we’ll fall back into this inner perimeter.” Gwen explained.
“We’ll put men on the rooves to keep pouring fire into them as they come over the berms.” The LT added.
“Yes, and we’ll need to pull back the swatters into the inner perimeter before the fighting starts. If we lose those, and I run out of ammo, we’ll be defenseless against any airborne or indirect fire.”
“Good work, Gunney.” The LT studied the FOB again with a furrowed brow. “You look like you’ve got everything squared away. Update me when it’s finished.
<Well shucks, Sir. Thanks for that.> She kept her feelings to herself. She was glad the LT was on board, but their brief confrontation before she’d fired on the convoy still got under her skin. <I don’t have time to think about it now.>
She really didn’t. They were living on borrowed time already. When General Wood and the city’s militia showed up, they’d show up in force and ready to dance.
She toggled to her task menu and started assigning tasks to each squad. She needed people on the berms keeping watch. She needed people helping create the second perimeter if they wanted to be finished before the locals arrived. She needed people in the armory loading the newly-made 1mm rounds into magazines. She needed to set TRPs on likely avenues of approach and get a full count of her artillery inventory. She needed people to move the swatters.
<What I really need is a drink, but instead I’m waking up my company in the middle of this shitty planet’s night and getting them to work for what might be the biggest battle of their lives.> She doubted the green privates knew it was coming, but she saw the tension on the few NCOs she saw. They knew shit was about to go down.
“Everybody up!” She yelled over the company net. “We’ve got work to do.”
The locals gave them another hour and a half before they showed. The sensors fourth squad placed on the intersection of the access road and the main road lit up like a Christmas tree. Red icons started to pop into existence along the road. Dozens and dozens of large vehicles started to dispense troops two kilometers away.
“I see them.” She dropped the second 80mm mortar tube she was repositioning and headed to the ops center.
The floating hologram in the center of the room offered a better three-hundred-and-sixty-degree picture of what was coming.
“I’m counting a couple thousand dismounting on the road.” The comms specialist tallied figures that the computers were populating on the edges of the holo.
“Recon?” The LT stepped into the ops center behind her.
“A recon in force.” She corrected. “A recon that looks like it outnumbers us twenty to one.”
“Well,” the LT gulped. “This should be interesting.”
“They’re moving through the woods on either side of the access road. They’re using the forest as cover.”
“Well, then they’re in for a surprise.” The diggers Gwen had placed out there would give her real-time updates of every footstep taken by this two-battalion-sized recon force. “Sir.” She looked over to the officer whose eyes were glued to the holo. “We’ve got about twenty minutes until they reach the berms, but we need to get the men into position.”
“Yes, of course.” The LT shook himself. He’d lost a lot of the fire he’d shown when it was just Gwen firing her artillery at the convoy almost a kilometer away.
<It’s a different feeling when the targets start to shoot back.> She knew the LT and the other green soldiers in the company would get to know that feeling soon enough.
“Squad leaders, enemy movement to the north, approximately two thousand, armament unknown, ETA twenty minutes. Prepare to defend the FOB.”
Green acknowledgements flooded back to her at the squad leaders went to work. Gwen took the time to see if everything was ready to go.
Four steel barriers had been welded together and were leaning against the walls of the concrete buildings. They’d be dropped into place when the time came. They were some of the crudest barriers she’d ever seen. It looked like the soldiers had found the desks, chairs, and file cabinets that she’d mentioned, got hold of a welding torch, and fused all the items together. Some ingenious private had even broken off chair legs, sharpened the edges, and welded them to the exterior side to create a makeshift palisade.
The swatters were all inside the inner perimeter now, but they were a little more clustered then she would have liked. One well-placed grenade and she’d lose three of the four. So, she put her shoulder into a few of them and shifted their position. They had to be in the open, so their sensors could get a bead on incoming projectiles, but that left them vulnerable to any incoming fire once the enemy came over the berms. She couldn’t avoid that.
And it was a when not an if. A hundred soldiers couldn’t keep tens of thousands of people from breeching a football field-sized perimeter, even with their technological superiority.
She did a quick diagnostic of swatters, linked them with her LACS neural network, and ensured they had proper fields of fire established along with secondary protocols. She didn’t want three swatters sitting there doing nothing while the fourth was getting overwhelmed.
The 80mms were already in position and slaved to her LACS, so as far as she could tell the inner perimeter was as ready as it could get. Next, she headed to the armory.
They’d moved the fabricator into this building to make things easier. When it got hectic in the ops center they didn’t want the device churning away in the background and getting blocked by all the foot-traffic. In the armory, it had all the space it needed to work its magic. And it was doing just that. Half a squad of bored soldiers were busy stuffing the five hundred round magazines full of 1mm needles. Thankfully, there were tools to help with the process. It might have been ok to load thirty-round magazines by hand a few hundred years ago, but it would take forever to do that with modern weaponry.
“Specialist.” She nodded to the soldier working the fabricator.
Dozens of rounds rolled off the fabricators belt and into a bin every second. <And we’re going to need every one of them.>
“When the shooting starts, you’re going to need to start fabricating them in the magazines.” Gwen picked up a half dozen magazines and put them into openings in her armor.
“Roger that, Gunney. We’ll eat through our stock faster, but I can do it.”
“Good, and make sure to disperse these in the next ten minutes. I want everyone here carrying a double load of ammunition.”
Gwen nodded and took one last look around the room. There was enough food to last them at least a week, two if they stretched it, but she wasn’t worried about that. If they were alive in a week she’d count that as a win.
She left the armory/storage room and returned to the ops center to grab her weapon. Really, she was a walking weapon: hyper-velocity missiles, rail gun, a fully loaded 125mm cannon, and dual blades of death. There wasn’t much on this planet that she couldn’t break, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t need her Buss. The large multi-purpose rifle was stashed next to her charging station. She pulled it out of its bracket and did a quick safety check. Everything came back green so she pulled four of the magazines out of her armor and stuck them into the weapon’s four barrels. The Buss could adapt to firing the 1mm rounds from magazines, but it wasn’t as effective and was prone to jamming. But that’s what she had to work with. It looked a little weird with the end of the magazines sticking out of the barrels sideways, but she didn’t give a shit as long as it fired.
“Company, stand to!” The order came from the LT over the company net. The enemy was only two hundred meters from the berms, and that was well within an M3’s effective range.
Even though it was pitch black out, the Dragonscale Armor’s advanced optics made it look like it was high noon on a sunny day without any of the annoying green-tinge of less advanced night vision. Which was probably what the enemy was using.
“Wait until they hit the clearing,” She ordered over the company net. “Conserve ammunition. One shot one kill.”
After talking with the armorer, and seeing the fabricator stock they had left, ammunition shortage was a real worry.
Every soldier but a few were on the berms. The majority of the firepower was on the front berm, but there was still at least a squad on the other three with a heavy weapon at the center. Only an idiot would leave three quarters of their defenses completely unmanned. Still, seventy soldiers in modern armor with M3s, 40mm grenade tubes, and SAWs shooting plasma-tipped rounds was going to chew up the recon force advancing toward them. Especially since they had an HI trooper backing them up.
Gwen stood behind the front berm in the open area watching everything unfold through her HUD. She had the sensors dialed up to eleven as she watched, listened, and even felt for what the enemy was planning. And thankfully she did or she wouldn’t have heard the nearly silent whistling.
“INCOMING!” she yelled just as the swatters roared to life and lit the night with tracer rounds.
The four batteries were spitting out three round bursts, the most conservative ammunition setting, but they were still scoring hits as they intercepted the incoming artillery barrage.
<Sneaky bastard.> Her own rail gun swiveled and added its firepower to the defenses.
The swatters either destroyed the incoming munitions outright or knocked them enough off course that they exploded outside the FOB’s earthen walls.
“Specialist! You better be cracking that encryption!”
Normally, cracking the encryption of incoming Blockie artillery shells was pointless. You just needed to hunker down and pray to whoever you prayed to that an HE round didn’t get through and land on your head. But with the antiquated technology the local militia was using the comms specialist should be able to isolate their signal and disrupt their ability to use indirect fire altogether.
<And that’s only plan A.> Plan B, or Plan A phase two depending on how you looked at it, was for her to blow the shit out of the enemy’s artillery.
“Working on it, Gunney.” The comms specialist sounded stressed. “Their rounds are GPS guided. I need another thirty seconds to isolate the frequency and shut them down.”
The specialist didn’t need any more prompting, so Gwen turned her attention back to the battlefield. The first salvo had been defeated, but her sensors were already picking up a second one incoming.
“Enemy at the wood-line, fifty meters!” The LT yelled from his position on the berm. “Single fire! Fire at will!”
The world exploded with the loud HISS and POP of the M3s firing, but the rate of fire was slow and controlled, exactly like Gwen wanted it to be.
“Second salvo incoming!” she informed as the swatters roared to life again.
<Come on, get a lock.> Her armor was back tracking the trajectory, but the enemy was employing countermeasures. They could move the smart munitions around in flight, so they didn’t fly along a single trajectory.
The good news was that the in-flight adjustments looked preprogrammed. <Someone got lazy.> Which meant that two salvos gave her a pretty good idea where the enemy fire was coming from.
It was coming from the outskirts of the city. Normally, Gwen would have hesitated a bit more in shooting near a civilian area, but the residents of the city had made it pretty clear that they weren’t friendly to the Commonwealth. She was also pretty confident she could put rounds on target without any collateral damage.
She toggled to her weapons menu and selected her ordinance. She’d fire two rounds, one electronic warfare round to spoof any countermeasures they might have in place, and one thermobaric round to end the threat. The thermobaric shell would utilize oxygen from the surrounding air to generate and intense, high-temperature explosion with a long-lasting blast wave. In laymen’s terms, it was going to fuck shit up.
She plotted her own random set of jinxes and jukes for her own shells to avoid counterfire on her position, not that it was much of a threat with all the swatters. Then she took a knee.
The two booms of her 125mm cannon firing were lost in the wave of return fire from the enemy force in the woods. Two thousand rifles thundered their response to the Company’s fire as incoming artillery was destroyed overhead or deflected into the dirt.
Gwen looked through her soldiers’ eyes and her computer identified multiple types of weapons being used, but the most common was the M1. She could tell from the winces on the firers’ faces as the recoil of the EM rifle slammed into them. She watched her soldiers cut down more of the enemy from the protection of the berm before returning her attention to her own indirect fire.
Her two-round fire mission streaked through the black skies of Rogue Island like a phantom. They took about three times as long to reach the target because of the course changes she’d programmed into their flight, but she tapped into the footage just before impact. The EW round went off first. It released its countermeasures and made two rounds look like twenty. If the enemy was equipped with swatters, then they would have been firing at the bogies instead of the real threat.
But they didn’t. The only defense the six-gun artillery battery had was two rhino-mounted cannons, operated by soldiers, firing at the explosion in the sky. They didn’t even see as the thermobaric warhead smacked into the middle of their formation and blew them all straight to hell.
Several seconds later they heard a thunderclap like god had bitch slapped the planet. The loud explosion cut the exchange of fire between the two forces. Instead of advancing under the cover of artillery, which was undoubtedly the militia’s plan, they started to retreat. It was a fighting retreat, one unit covering another as they bounded backwards, but it was still a target rich environment for Gwen’s troops.
They continued controlled, accurate fire until the enemy crossed the three-hundred-meter mark. “Cease fire.” The LT’s voice called over the net.
Seventy weapons fell silent, and the green troops started to cheer. The few seasoned veterans didn’t, they reinforced their fighting position, checked their weapons and armor, and reloaded fresh magazines.
“Squad leaders, SITREP.” Gwen ordered, and the information started to flood in.
There was no hiding what anyone did in 25th Century combat. Their armor caught everything on its sensors, and it calculated the damage done to the enemy in seconds.
The exchange had lasted less than ten minutes, and the company had killed or wounded over seven hundred of the militia’s soldiers. Since they’d left the wounded, those few hundred still alive were as good as dead unless the FOB medics went to help. Gwen wasn’t going to give that order in the middle of hostile territory when the enemy had stopped their retreat a half-kilometer away to regroup.
She hadn’t fired a single shot with her Buss, but she had the highest casualty count of anyone. She’d taken out six guns with five-man gun crews. Then there had been the two rhinos standing guard. The sensors had only caught the gunner and a driver, but that still brought her total killed to thirty-four people. Her soldiers averaged about ten.
Combat totals for the entire mission since touching down yesterday flashed across her HUD. The green soldiers would be impressed with their NCOIC. She had over a hundred and fifty kills to her name in the last twenty-four hours.
Gwen didn’t care about those numbers or the people they represented. She’d stopped caring long ago. You couldn’t be an HI trooper and get caught up in the guilt those numbers would trigger in others. She’d shed that layer of her humanity after her first few drops, because if she’d kept track she’d know she had a five-digit body count since graduating Basic all those years ago.
“I want fifty percent security at all times.” She yelled over the net. “Have your battle buddy go grab ammo and chow for the both of you. Hydrate, eat, and be ready. That isn’t the last we’ve seen on them tonight.” She cut the line and sent a brief report of her fire mission to the LT.
He was ecstatic that she’d taken out the enemy artillery and went to report to higher.
<Please ask for resupply and reinforcement or this is going to be a very long night.>