Location: Styx System, Classified Space, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Eve brought up the rear of the formation, not because she was tired or slower than the guys, but because she wanted to. <I don’t know why every guy wants to take point. It’s like they take pride in being the first person to get shot at. Idiots.>
Every couple of steps she turned around to check behind the line of Ranger candidates that extended about fifty meters, with ten meters spacing between soldiers. They didn’t know what the threat was. They didn’t even know if there was a threat, but she’d bet her monthly paycheck something shitty was going to happen.
The movement and spacing was second nature by now. Doing dozens of squad-level exercises and patrols over the past several weeks had them changing movement techniques based on terrain and maintaining minimum spacing as simple as breathing. It was also common sense to make sure they all didn’t get killed by a single grenade lobbed into the group.
So far their SERE exercise had involved two days of surviving out in the wild with basically nothing. They had a destination three hundred kilometers away that they were ordered to move towards, but they weren’t given a timeframe to get there. All of that made her nervous.
<And hungry.> Her stomach rumbled loudly, which was becoming more and more common.
Food was scarce out here. There wasn’t any local wildlife that they’d come across, and only a few of the berries on the trees were edible. The last thing anyone needed was to eat poisoned berries and have to call in a medivac. The shits could be fatal if you had them for too long out in the middle of nowhere. At least SGT Diggle had been crafty and brought a few saved snacks from MRE’s they’d eaten before getting dropped in this tropical hell. He was even gracious enough to share with her.
<That’s the downside of the enhancements.> She could feel herself getting more exhausted with every hour. The planet’s gravity was brutal, and the lack of calories was making it nearly unbearable.
“Let’s take five.” The SGT talked at a normal level and everyone heard him.
Their hearing was tuned into the wilderness and twice as sharp as a normal human. They were looking, listening, and feeling the terrain for anything out of the ordinary. Anything that would give them a hint of incoming danger.
<Because it’s coming alright.> She could feel it.
“Ice?” Diggle extended a bag of trail mix.
She immediately began to salivate. Peanuts, almonds, and little bits of chocolate were little slices of protein heaven. He handed over the bag for her to take a handful without comment. At first, she wondered if the SGT was going to ask for a little quid pro quo in exchange for the food.
Eve wasn’t the type of person to give it away, but when you were starving a little hanky panky seemed like a small price to pay. As it turned out, the SGT was a stand-up guy, and he took the bag back without any sort of demands.
The small group had automatically formed a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree perimeter. They made up a dirty, smelly circle with Diggle in the center.
“I’ve gotta shit.” Eve announced to everyone.
“Just remember to bury it, Ice,” was the only response from the squad leader.
There was no privacy between the ranger candidates, even when it came to bowel movements. Everyone had seen everything already.
Diggle shifted to cover her sector as she made her way twenty meters farther into the woods and found a good position. A large tree, about the size of an Earth Redwood, but looking more like a palm tree, had cracked down the center and toppled over. There was a nice private spot in between the two halves of the shattered trunk, and Eve took full advantage of the rare moment of privacy.
She stripped out of her CMUs, ignoring the side effects of swamp ass that sloshed out onto the ground, dug a small hole and went to work taking the Browns to the SuperBowl. She savored the moment more than any other shit she’d taken in her life, and it was probably because of that savoring that she heard the snapping of twigs not too far away.
<Fucking pervs!> She pulled her CMUs up, and let the smart-cloth do the rest.
She kicked dirt over her steaming feces, and slid under one of the fallen trunks away from the sound of the approaching peeping tom. When that sick shit poked their head into her little private spot she was going to teach him a lesson they’d never forget.
She moved silently to a more advantageous position, waited until she heard the squish of boots in the mud, and then jumped over the trunk and gave the dude a punt to the crotch that would make an NFL kicker proud.
The only problem was that it wasn’t a member of her squad.
The guy was in a uniform that seemed to ripple with the foliage around them. She hadn’t seen it before, and fear of seeing the new threat propelled her into motion instantly.
She sprinted away from the guys whose nuts she’d shattered, vaulted the broken trunk, and sped toward the rest of her squad. Before she got there another camouflaged man stepped into her path. She didn’t have time to change direction, so she committed to it and barreled right into him.
The camouflaged man’s high-tech uniform rippled as they made contact, he sprawled, and tried to get his forearm under her throat. She was slippery enough to avoid it, spun away, and headed off at a ninety-degree angle away from her squad.
<They probably already fucking got them.> She dodged from side to side when she heard a sizzling behind her and smelled ozone.
She kept her eyes peeled for more camouflaged men as she ran, but she’d barely seen that one guy until she ran right into him. Still, she randomly changed directions and did everything she could to throw the guys off.
It wasn’t working. Every couple of seconds, no more than twenty, she heard more sizzling slicing the air around her. <Whoever they are they’re trying to take me alive.> It made sense. This was a course about survival, evasion, resistance, and escape. They’d been surviving, now she was evading, which meant the next phase was…
The stunning blast hit her in the shoulder. She tripped over her own feet as her muscles seized up, and she plowed into a tree at about thirty kilometers per hour. The tree made out worse than her, with the exception of her nose. That broke with a sickening crunch, but she barely felt it as her body continued to seize from the ongoing shock.
<Good thing I just took a shit.> There was no doubt in her mind there would have been brown running down her leg if she hadn’t.
The electricity running through her had to be hundreds of thousands of volts to take down someone with her enhancements, which meant whoever was after them wasn’t fucking around. She could smell cooked flesh in her shoulder area, which was currently getting rubbed into the dirt. <Great, now I have to worry about infection.>
She barely saw the two sets of camouflaged boots when they appeared next to her, but she did feel the rough hands that grabbed her and hauled her to her feet.
“Got her.” One of her captors tossed her over his shoulder like a sack of flour, except it wasn’t a he. She distinctly felt a boob pressing against her thigh.
“All five accounted for. Let’s move out to the rendezvous. Bird will be here in fifteen to extract us. Then the fun starts.” The camouflage of her captors deactivated. There were two and she recognized one of them.
He was a staff sergeant that had graded one of her patrols. He’d given her a satisfactory, but impressed on her that she barely passed.
<Too bad he isn’t the one I kicked in the junk.>
“Something funny, Recruit?”
“Nope, I…” The fist hit her cleanly on the jaw, rattling her brain, and knocking her unconscious.
Commander Sarah Wythe
CWS Fortitude System 1552, York Sector, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“FTL signature!” A Spacer Apprentice was manning Fortitude’s navigation section since the OIC and NCOIC had been bloodied up at the tail end of the battle. “Three million kilometers at elliptical bearing five-five, Ma’am.”
“Weapons hot, ladies and gentlemen. If that ship is hostile light it up the moment it emerges.” Sarah nursed a fat lip from where her head had met the holo-table in an unfriendly manner, but other than that she was uninjured. She remained cool and collected for the sake of her crew.
But on the inside it was a whole different story. <You’ve got to be shitting me! Just give up already!>
She thought the fight between the Blockies and Commonwealth in System 1552 was over. The emergence of the Star Kingdom’s dreadnaught had been the tipping point for the Blockie force. They’d exchanged a few more salvos and kept up harassing fire all the way to the FTL limit before jumping away. In total, the aggressors had lost one battleship and one destroyer in the engagement. The smaller ship’s destruction was at the hand of the Star Kingdom’s vessel, which was a lot more agile than it looked.
Whatever the relationship was between the Commonwealth and Star Kingdom before the battle, it was pretty clear afterward. The Blockies didn’t take kindly to someone blowing up their ships, especially if said destroyer was packed with ground troops to facilitate the construction of a forward base in the system.
The task force was in a vulnerable position to deal with a new inbound threat. The two battleships, Galahad and Lancelot were drifting about a hundred kilometers apart and exchanging replacement parts and maintenance personnel with consistent flights of Spyders. Liberty was in position to their starboard acting as a guard dog and facing the direction the Blockies had fled.
At the edges of their one light minute bubble the Commonwealth units could still make out the floating corpse of the battleship they’d killed. It was spinning out into space with no signs of life and no active emissions.
Fortitude was doing the same on their port, but the cruiser had been hurt worse than her sister. Half her missile tubes were blown to shit and her entire starboard cannon armament was offline thanks to a blown generator, which had also taken the lives of thirty-five spacers.
It had been an ugly fight, and their victory was largely thanks to the biggest ship in their rag-tag formation, even if HMS Horatio Nelson wasn’t really in the formation. It was sitting thirty thousand kilometers directly above the Commonwealth units. Direct assistance in the repair process before heading back to New Lancashire had been turned down, but Liberty’s captain remained courteous due to the Star Kingdom’s assistance in the battle.
Galahad’s captain was currently in surgery for an injury sustained at the end of the battle. There had been a moment where Sarah actually thought she might be taking command of the task force. Commanding search and rescue operations would have looked good on her OER, but it was quickly determined that Liberty’s skipper was senior by a few years.
Not a lot of that mattered as the data was refined and she got a better sense of what was coming their way.
“Ma’am, CIC reports a small contact, a few small ships or one, maybe two large ones.”
“Full power to ES armor.” She commanded as the ripple in space time solidified into a warship.
There were a tense few seconds until BB 120 Yawin blazed in wonderful blue letters on the holo-tank.
<Thank fucking God.>
“Stand down. Hail the Yawin and inform them of our situation.” She let her shoulders relax.
“Ma’am, Horatio Nelson is accelerating.”
“What?” The tension was back.
“Cheers, Commonwealth units.” The drawling voice was back, and it rubbed her the wrong way. “You no longer require our assistance and your new ship’s presence means our diplomatic mission was well received.”
The dreadnaught was pulling away quickly and heading for the FTL limit. She ignored Liberty’s captain’s reply and motioned for her sensor tech to ensure they got a passive scan on the retreating warship.
The Commonwealth didn’t have a dreadnaught classification of warship, but if they did it would fall between a battleship and assault carrier. Ship designs were different from nation to nation, but the Star Kingdom favored a cigar shaped design. At least, that’s what it appeared like at first. They hadn’t gotten a solid read with passive sensors, even at thirty thousand kilometers, which meant the ship had excellent stealth tech. They couldn’t spot missile tubes on the spinning hull, but the volley the Horatio Nelson had fired to kill the Blockie destroyer had contained two hundred and fifty missiles, fifty more than a battleship. It was also 1.75 kilometers long, .25 kilometers longer than a battleship.
There was little doubt in Sarah’s mind that if a Commonwealth battleship went up against a Star Kingdom dreadnaught the dreadnaught would win. Not only was the ship bigger, probably better armored, and had more missiles, but ten percent more missiles had gotten through the Blockie’s defense compared to the Commonwealth salvos.
All of that led Sarah to thank her lucky stars that they were on the same team, but she still wanted to find a way to kill them if the occasion called for it.
That was just the nature of war. Kill or be killed.