Gunnery Sergeant Gwen Cunningham
Location: FOB Oldport, Rogue Island, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“Hold the fucking line!” Gwen roared over the company net. She could feel the enemy’s latest assault falling apart. “Keep up the pressure!”
She toggled to her own weapons menu and let out a silent curse. She only had two rounds left for her 125mm cannon, and both were anti-personnel, which worked out just fine for this situation. She switched screens with some fancy finger-work and looked through the eyes of the soldiers on the berms.
<They’re done on the north berm.> Gwen could already see the local militia covering each other’s retreat back toward the wood line, a wood line that was about fifty meters further away from the berm thanks to all the explosives that had been lobbed into it and the resulting fire. <We still haven’t seen shit to the west.> The opening from the FOB to the road had been empty the entire battle. <East and south it is.>
She programmed in the firing coordinates after the computer measured a back azimuths with the data coming from the soldiers’ armor’s computers. She felt the two soft thumps as the ordinance left the tube, and watched as they detonated in the middle of the enemy lines.
The death of at least two dozen militiamen attacking each berm was enough to break the assault. Gwen’s company and the militia still exchanged sporadic fire as the enemy pulled back, but the immediate threat was repelled.
But that didn’t mean it was break time. If anything, this was when she earned her paycheck.
“Resupply!” She yelled over the first squad net. “Squad leaders give me a SITREP.” She switched to the net she’d set up specifically for the men and women leading the soldiers on the berms.
The armorer and an assigned detail sprinted out of the makeshift armory with a big polyplast crate between them filled to the brim with magazines.
“Start on the eastern berm,” Gwen instructed as the squad leaders in that area replied that they were running on fumes.
The two soldiers changed direction mid-stride, almost tripped, but then recovered and raced off. While they were busy, Gwen catalogued the information the squad leaders were sending her and sent it off to the LT. The officer had spent most of his time on the northern berm, and hadn’t done anything to endanger his life or the lives of the soldiers stationed there.
After the first few assaults by the locals, Gwen and LT Maddox had fallen into a rhythm. The LT was in charge of directing the north and western berms. She insisted he take the easier load so he didn’t get overwhelmed. He’d move troops between them as he saw fit, and called for fire from Gwen if he deemed it necessary.
It had worked out perfectly so far, and it allowed her to focus her attention on the two hotspot berms, and raining down arty on the assholes trying to overrun them. Being close fire support in and of itself was a full-time job, and she was thankful that the senior squad leaders on the berms had proven capable of conducting a fixed defense. So, now that she knew they were being taken care of she needed to square herself away.
“Michaelson, meet me by the mortars.” She contacted her assistant.
The single operating mortar they had left was smoking from overuse, and Gwen estimated she wouldn’t be able to use it for another half an hour. Still, Michaelson was dutifully reloading the autoloader with the 80mm shells that had been keeping the locals at bay all night.
A crash course on mortar, swatter, and LACS reloading procedures had the young PVT learning on the fly. <No pressure though,> she thought as he smacked the lid of the auto-loader and initiated the diagnostic function. <If you screw up we all probably die.> She kept that thought to herself.
The PVT had become the second most important man in the company, behind her and ahead of the LT.
“Swatter three has been seeing most of the action. Get a few thousand rounds of ammo into her and then meet me by the armory.” She ordered.
“Yes, Gunney.” The PVT nodded and scampered away.
<Sweet kid. I’m going to put him in for a CAM when this is all done with.> Really, that was the least he deserved.
“LT, I’m going offline for ten.” Gwen sent the company commander the private message.
“Hurry up, Gunney. We don’t know when they’ll be back.”
“Roger, Sir.” She cut the link, and took up a position right next to the armory’s door.
She lined herself up at an angle with her ass and right side facing the door’s opening. Then she went to the LACS main menu and hit the OPEN/DISMOUNT button. The armor asked her if she really wanted to do that, she said yes. There were several loud hissing and popping sounds as the armor vented its chambers and opened itself up. Gwen emerged like a baby from a duro-steel womb, and only took a moment to stretch and shield her eyes from the morning sun before getting to work. Because the truth was that PVT Michaelson wasn’t enough to keep four swatters, an 80mm, and a LACS resupplied in the short time between engagements.
Gwen had to take the tactical risk and unass from her armor to do the job herself. She’d still be able to be back in the fight in about fifteen seconds, but they could lose an entire berm in that short time span, and the guilt of that would eat her up inside.
<Stop thinking about the “what ifs” and fucking work.> She chided herself as she walked over to the rapidly dwindling stack of 125mm shells in the corner of the building.
Swatter three was just on the other side of the wall from this stash of shells, and that swatter’s primary mission was to protect them first, and the southern berm second. Because if one of the mortars triggered one of the thermobaric shells they’d all be totally fucked.
<Best to get these first.> She picked up the last two thermobaric shells in the inventory and walked them back to her waiting LACS.
Modern artillery shells weren’t as long and bulky as older models. They didn’t need the chemical explosives necessary to send old shells flying, so their size was greatly reduced. Without the miniaturization techniques that had upgraded the entire artillery field in the last century, the LACS and HI as Gwen knew it wouldn’t even exist. They would still be running around with large vehicle-mounted guns and five-man gun teams. Judging by how Gwen had eliminated most of the militias arty already spoke to the upgrades’ effectiveness. Even when confined to a hundred by hundred meter space, the enemy still hadn’t been able to take her down.
<Stop patting yourself on the back.> She loaded the two thermobaric rounds into the side of the LACS. The armor did the rest; moving them to the assigned storage space, and updating her weapons menu automatically.
Next, she went back and did three trips of anti-personnel shells before going to grab some high explosive. She wanted a menu of options when it came to stopping the inevitable next wave. She was joined by PVT Michaelson soon after, and she detailed him to grabbing the HE rounds.
The PVT grunted as he hefted the shell into his cradled arms and walked out to the armor. While Gwen was able to carry two rounds easily under each arm, a regular grunt would find the rounds pretty heavy. The designers of the lethal ordinance had been able to miniaturize the arty thanks the cannon’s EM design, but that also gave them a chance to pack more bang for their buck. A modern 125mm shell had a lot more boom to it than its predecessors, which the Rogue Island militia and the surrounding forest could attest to.
<That’s actually a pretty good PT idea.> Gwen thought as she waited for the PVT to hoist his shell into the LACS’ reloading port. <I should get some dummy shells and have a squad carry them wherever they go, keep them out of the dirt during whatever exercise we’re doing. It’ll be like a mini log PT.> She smiled at the thought. Her troops would hate her, but they’d be ready if they ever found themselves in this type of position again.
She and the PVT were on their second round of reloads when the LT’s stressed voice practically screamed over the net.
“Gunney, to the West!” She spotted the LT sprinting toward the western berm.
“Move.” She shouldered the PVT out of the way.
Thankfully he dropped the HE round in the port beforehand. Her own anti-personnel rounds went into the dirt. “Pick those up and monitor the swatters. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” She disappeared into her LACS.
She hit the CLOSE/MOUNT button on the main menu and the OPEN/CLOSE PORTS. There was the telltale hiss of the closing ports, and ten seconds later Gwen was hauling ass toward the berm.
“Moving, Sir.” She replied to the LT as she patched into his visual feed.
<Motherfucker!> On the road to the west a huge convoy of vehicles was hauling ass away from them going over a hundred kilometers per hour and picking up speed.
“They’re making a break for it, Gunney. Take them out!”
No sooner had those words left the LT’s mouth than the squads on the eastern berm started firing.
“Contact east, five hundred meters, a fuck ton of bad guys!” The squad leader eloquently yelled out distance, direction, and force composition for everyone to hear. “We’re going to need some backup.”
<Sneaky fucker.> Gwen spent a millisecond giving General Wood props, and listening to the LT yelling orders.
The general had been testing them up until now. He’d shown how much pressure he could put on the FOB from all sides, and now he was forcing Gwen to make a decision. Support the FOB with her arty or take out the vehicles that would race away and link up with a larger force somewhere out there.
The swatters started firing before she heard the hiss of the incoming mortars, and this time there were a lot of them.
<This is it.> She could feel it in her bones. They’d probably killed or injured ten thousand enemy soldiers over the course of the night, and even with his vastly superior numbers the general couldn’t keep that up forever.
<What would I have done?> Gwen asked herself, and came up with what was happening right now. <I’d order an all-out push. I’d bring all the mortars I had left to bear on the FOB. I’d use those to cover a massive assault to overwhelm one of the berms, while simultaneously sending out troops to get help and shore up my position in the planetary governor’s new grand army. Damnit! I hate a competent enemy.>
She ran up the eastern berm to the top and stood tall as she gazed out at the road. <Ten…twenty…forty…sixty plus vehicles.> She saw some of the same buses that she’d blown up less than twelve hours ago. There were also plenty of rhinos and what looked like newer trucks and SUVs with jerry rigged weapons emplacements.
They were spread out over a kilometer, with the sturdier vehicles off-roading to avoid presenting a clustered target for Gwen to hit. All four swatters were firing at will now. Their tracers were lighting up the morning sky, but it just wasn’t enough. Explosions started to rock the FOB as mortars made it through. Some fell within the inner perimeter, thankfully missing the swatters, but she saw the last 80mm fall off her weapons screen.
<Fuck!> She didn’t have any more time to think. She knew what the company’s mission was.
Her LACS’ neural network took the footage from the road and plotted the best spread of ordinance. She only had two thermobarics, two HE, and six anti-personnel rounds. It was going to take all of them if she had any shot of stopping the fleeing enemy.
As her computer lined up the shots she went back into the weapons menus and selected the specifics of the thermobaric rounds. Since the shells could cause massive destruction, the designers had built in a regulator. It allowed the HI trooper to gauge the amount of fuel to pump into the air before detonating. Since the start of the battle, she’d had the rounds dialed down since all the fire missions were danger close. Now, that wasn’t such an issue. She cranked them up to the max.
<I hope they don’t have their own swatters. I should have loaded those EW shells.> She’d be kicking herself later, but up until a minute ago they didn’t need anything to confuse the enemy. They just needed to blow the bastards up.
She dropped back down below the berm, took a knee and let ‘em rip. She staggered the shots so they’d all come down at once and give the enemy no time to take evasive action.
“Fire mission on the way, Sir. Splash in ten.” She’d built some extra evasive maneuvers into their flight profile to avoid any basic swatters. “I’m dry on my cannon and heading to the eastern berm to reinforce.” She did a quick check of her Buss as she ran across the width of the FOB.
The LT didn’t answer, he was to fixated on the transport column racing away from them as fast as their electric motors would take them.
Mortars were still falling all around them, and she probably looked like some muscular holo action star running through explosions. It made for good recruitment footage until one made it through the swatters and hit her armor right in the shoulder.
<Shit on a stick with a side of chocolate ass!> Gwen cursed as her head ranglike a gong.
The explosion blasted her off her feet, gave her a crick in her neck, but didn’t do much other than that. She shook it off, got back up, and kept going. Even the direct hit from the antiquated 80mm wasn’t enough to break through the LACS, although she did have a few blinking damage warnings for the scales in that area.
<I’m gonna need a chiropractor.>
She was still picking herself up and dashing for the opposite berm when her shells hit.
Her audiovisual was already dampened from the mortar shell that normally would have ripped her head off, so she didn’t hear the overwhelming BOOM as two thermobarics dialed up to the max exploded roughly a kilometer away. She would have felt bad for the hundreds of human beings that were basically vaporized in the resulting fuel air explosion, but they’d just dropped a mortar round literally onto her head, so it barely registered for her.
The vehicles didn’t fare much better, and those that might have survived the explosions didn’t survive getting roasted alive in burning wrecks.
“Great job, Gunney!” The LT was giddy as she hit the eastern berm and started dishing out hurt from the business end of her Buss. “Looks like you got them all.”
“I better have, Sir. We’re out of thermobaric and we’re only got a handful of HE and anti-personnel left. On the bright side, I’ve got a full load of EW, so we’ll be able to confuse them to death.” Her smartass remark only got her silence as a dozen rounds pinged off her armor. She took aim and killed the guy shooting at her.
“I think that fire mission shook them up good.” The squad leader in charge of the eastern berm stated.
Gwen saw it too. The thousands of militiamen involved in the assault were already falling back. <Maybe I killed the general?> That would have been well worth the expenditure of their last big shells. <Cutting the head off the snake and all that.>
“Sir, it looks like they’re falling back over here, so it might be a good idea to get on the horn with HQ and update them. Without more ammo we aren’t going to be able to hold this position if they come back in force.”
“Yeah.” It sounded like the LT was accepting defeat and he didn’t like it.
<It’s tough, Sir. But we’ve accomplished our mission until now.>
It had come with a cost. As the SITREPs rolled in they had two KIA on the list. A LACS might be able to take a direct 80mm hit, but the Dragonscale armor couldn’t. Add that to the six WIA throughout the rest of the fight and they’d lost nearly ten percent of their combat power in one night. That was something battalion needed to know about.
“I’ll get with Chaos Six right after…”
Gwen saw the light in the sky at about the same time the LT did. She craned her neck back, immediately regretted the decision, and went to full magnification on the LACS. But she didn’t need it. When you’d seen one atmospheric detonation you’d seen them all.
“Gunney, we just lost comms with HQ.” The specialist came over the company net a second later.
“I know,” Gwen sighed. “Someone just took out our orbital relay.”
“Who…how?” The LT sputtered.
There were two easy answers to the question. Both weren’t good for the soldiers of FOB Oldport. First, the planet’s militia had orbital strike capability. A backwater planet like Rogue Island didn’t have any need for that type of tech, and if they did, they’d been hiding it, which meant this little rebellion had been in the works a lot longer than the brass thought.
That was the best-case scenario. The other possibility was that a warship was destroying anything in orbit to disrupt communications, usually in preparation for an invasion. Since the Commonwealth wouldn’t blow up their own satellite, that meant the Blockies were in town.
<I just hope Coral Sea left an emergency FTL drone out there like regulations dictate. Because if the Blockies are here we’re up shit’s creek with our paddle so far up our ass we won’t be able to find the handle even if we tried.>If anything, Gwen was understating just how fucked they truly were.