Gunnery Sergeant Gwen Cunningham
Location: FOB Oldport, Rogue Island, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“We’re screwed man, we’re so screwed. We’re all gonna fuckin’ die!” PVT Michaelson was shitting a chicken on the private net Gwen had established with him.
She couldn’t blame him. Above them, antimatter explosions were lighting up the orbitals like miniature suns being born. There were only a handful of detonations because Rogue Island’s orbital infrastructure was minimal, but it confirmed Gwen’s worst fears. Someone was here and they were coming in hot and ready to break shit.
“Lock it up, Private!” She shut down the rambling man. “Make sure those swatters are fully loaded. If you screw that up we’re going to be dead before whoever is up there gets down here.” She gave him a little shove to get him moving.
“Squad leaders get your shit together!” She’d done a quick sweep through the soldiers’ visuals and way too many of them were looking up instead of out.
“Watch your sectors!”
“What, you’ve never seen an explosion before?!” The NCOs started laying into the enlisted for being distracted.
Once Gwen was satisfied they were getting security back in order, she transferred over to a different net. “Specialist?”
“I’m working on it, Gunney.” The communications subject matter expert sounded stressed as she tried to work the communication’s node. “Without the satellite we can’t get any messages to JB Sullivan. I’m trying to override some of the local towers to boost our signal, but the mountains are getting in the way.”
“Keep at it.” Gwen didn’t let her emotions leak into her voice, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there.
<Fuck me, this is bad.> She couldn’t stand still and think about it though. She needed to keep moving.
“Sir?” She switched nets again to get the LT.
“I saw.” Maddox sounded like he was watching a funeral procession. “One positive note is that the local militia is in full retreat. I don’t know if it was us blowing up most of their vehicles, killing a good chunk of their men, or the antimatter going off up there, but they tucked tail and ran for it.”
“Any vehicles in working condition?” Gwen had an idea blooming…
“No, the thermobrics were brutally thorough. Whatever they have left is high-tailing it back to Oldport, and I don’t think they’ll let us hitch a ride.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
There was a pause as the LT figured out exactly how he wanted to say what was on his mind. “We’re dead if we can’t get to the PDC at JB Sullivan.”
“Yes, sir.” She didn’t sugar-coat it for the junior officer. “If those are Blockies up there, then they’re already sweeping the surface for targets in preparation for their landing. They’ll either hit us with a kinetic strike or energy blast. Either way we’re dead. We could try to hide our signature, but we just fought a battle here. A ton of shit is on fire. There is no way they’re going to miss that unless they’re deaf, dumb, and blind.”
“I don’t think we’ll get that lucky.”
“We need an evac plan.”
“Working on it, Sir. If we can get in touch with the base then we might be able to get a pair of Spyders out here to grab us. Our little two-battalion force is going to need every hand holding a rifle if we want to last a day against a Blockie siege. Our hundred men are way more important than the whole Spyder inventory on-planet. Good as those birds are, they’ll be cannibalized for weapons the moment the Blockies get into orbit and we can’t run flight ops anymore.”
“What about the planet’s citizens?”
Gwen chalked the comment up to the young man’s naiveté. The idea that everyone could band together, hold hands, roast marshmallows, and fight off the Blockie’s invasion together after they’d been killing each other was a Disney fairytale that had about as much chance of coming true as her being able to break a battleship over her knee.
No…the local militia and the Commonwealth military would take the fight to the enemy separately, and without the PDC’s shields, the local militia would be hunted down and slaughtered by the better-equipped and better-trained Blockies. It didn’t make sense tactically, but that’s what would happen.
“Hopefully, we can get through to battalion.” The LT didn’t seem to have much faith in that plan. The young warrior, who twenty minutes ago had been doing a reasonably good job of leading men in combat, was now dejected and resigned to his fate.
<Kids these days.> She shook her head, and was about to give the officer a quick kick in the ass when they were interrupted.
“Sir, Gunney, I’ve got an inbound flight of Spyders hailing us.”
Gwen could hear the specialist dancing around in her armor.
“Put them through.” She kept her voice calm, but couldn’t stop from smiling.
<One crisis averted.>
“Checkmate Six, this is Rogue Three and Four incoming from JB Sullivan. ETA two minutes. Grab anything that isn’t bolted down and get ready to haul ass.”
“Roger that, Rogue flight. Thanks for the save.”
The pilot didn’t reply, and Gwen was already moving. “All squad leaders fall back to the inner perimeter, double time!” she yelled.
There wasn’t time to package up the fabricator, which meant they were just going to pick it up and throw it onboard. That was the same for all the ammo they’d produced. Thankfully, they’d been throwing it in polyplast crates for quick distribution.
“On it, Gunney, I’m just going to need a few extra hands.” The comms specialist was already shutting down the node and closing it up. Those were meant to be used on the go, so she had it packed in less than a minute.
“Listen up.” The LT’s voice cracked over the company net. “XO and Gunney are going to take first through fifth squads, the fabricator, communications node, and ammo. Sixth through tenth are coming with me. We’re breaking down the swatters and loading up anything else that we can get our hands on. I want us off the ground less than one minute after those birds touch down.”
“Yes, Sir.” Gwen couldn’t find any issue with the LT’s orders, and she hurried to execute.
Echo Company’s XO was a woman so tiny it was a wonder she’d met height requirements to enter the infantry in the first place. Gwen didn’t think the other woman topped 150 centimeters. Gwen towered nearly a meter taller than her. It was a David and Goliath situation where David didn’t stand a chance in hell of scratching the paint on her armor.
For the duration of the battle, she’d been supervising the soldiers manning the fabricator, monitoring communication, and doing everything not directly related to repelling the enemy. The woman hadn’t bitched once about not being in the action, which was either a good or a bad thing.
They’d find out soon enough.
“Lieutenant Hyde.” Gwen gave the XO a curt nod as she entered the HQ building that was quickly being evacuated. “I’ll take the comms node. That’ll free up more hands.”
Gwen could lift what it would take four regular grunts to carry, and from the looks of things there was more stuff for them to bring than hands available. Any personal stuff the soldiers had brought along wasn’t coming with them. That much she was sure of, which was going to lead to problems down the line.
<Better to have problems than be dead.> She didn’t even grunt with exertion as she hefted the closed case and trotted out toward the Spyder LZ.
The two fifty-ton war machines were on final approach, flying low, and just barely clearing the berms, where her fifty troopers were ready to cram into the hull with all the crap that was being stacked next to them. The Spyders touched down, their ramps were lowered, and the crew chiefs sprinted down and waved them on with a sense of urgency that didn’t bode well for anyone outside the PDC’s shields.
“Move your ass people.” She ran up the ramp with everyone else, and used her shoulder to squish people back from the opening.
The Spyder was only meant to carry fifty grunts and their battle rattle. Now, it was taking fifty grunts, their battle rattle, an HI trooper, a comms node, Class Five fabricator, a few crates of ammo, and a bunch of other junk.
<I just hope we can get off the ground.> That’s what Gwen was really worried about.
The XO was the last on closely followed by the crew chief. Less than sixty seconds had passed since the Spyders touched down. The ramp started to rise, and was still halfway open when the Spyder lifted off with a strangled wail.
Having ridden in Spyders for almost two decades, it was never a good thing to hear the engines taxed that much. <But we’re up.> Gwen thought as the assault shuttle rapidly gained altitude and shot away over the burning plains.
Her last sight of FOB Oldport was the LT leading the rapid dismantling of the final swatter.
Fifty plus soldiers were jammed into the Spyder’s hull soup to nuts, which was against every regulation in the book, and for good reason.
“Shit! Brace for…” the pilot didn’t even get to finish before a shockwave hit the Spyder and sent everyone flying.
Gwen didn’t see what happened. She was too busy falling as the Spyder cartwheeled through the air. She landed right on top of second squad’s leader, and his status went from green to black.
“FUCK!” Gwen screamed inside her suit as she realized she’d crushed the man to death.
The squad leader wasn’t the only casualty. Two other soldiers were thrown around and broke their necks. A third of the Spyder’s occupants went from green to yellow, and one to red. In the five second timespan, they had nearly as many casualties as they’d had when fighting the militia.
But that wasn’t the worst of it.
LT Maddox and six through tenth squads weren’t even black. They were just gone. Like they’d never existed.
“God damn it!”
As the NCOIC she had authorization to patch in with the pilot, who was busy getting ahold of the assault shuttle. She felt him struggle with the bird as she braced herself against the hull. There was no saving the squad leader she’d pancaked, but she could at least not flatten anymore soldiers.
“Kinetic impact, six o’clock.” The pilot answered Gwen’s question before she could ask it. “Rogue Four is gone, so is the FOB, and Oldport is going to get a nice dirt shower.”
Gwen accessed the rear cameras of the assault shuttle and saw a pillar of dust and debris rising half a kilometer into the air where it was slowly spreading outward into the recognizable mushroom shape. She’d seen kinetic impacts before, but never from this close without a shield between her and the impact.
<Fifty soldiers, the LT, all of our swatters, and who the fuck knows what else.> Gwen felt her chest tighten as the losses washed over her, but she quickly squashed the emotions like a bug and pushed them down. There would be time to drink herself in oblivion and grieve later. Right now she needed to get the remnants of Echo safely to the PDC.
“Ma’am, you’re in charge now.” Gwen watched as LT Hyde, now the CO of Echo Company, took the news silently.
Gwen didn’t know the small woman well, they hadn’t spent a lot of time together so far, and now they were both regretting that.
“I’ll inform the squad leaders, Ma’am.” Gwen decided to give the young woman a moment to assume the weight of responsibility that had just fallen on her shoulders.
The four remaining squad leaders weren’t that surprised. There were only so many things that could toss around a Spyder like that, and none of them worked out well if Rogue Four was still on the ground back at the FOB.
“Gunney,” the pilot called her specifically, not the new CO.
Imagery started to flood into her HUD showing more mushroom clouds on the horizon.
“They’re taking out the FOBs.” Gwen’s computer did the calculations.
“We sent out two birds to each FOB, but…”
“You couldn’t get to the ones on the opposite side of the continent fast enough.”
Just like Echo Company, the 8552nd Infantry Battalion had just been cut in half, maybe more. They’d be facing their invaders with less than fifteen hundred soldiers. The odds had been poor when Echo Company faced the Oldport militia, but that was purely a numbers game. Now, those odds were just downright pitiful. They would be facing a numerically superior enemy with technological parity. It would be a determined enemy that knew modern tactics, doctrine, had been fighting, and sometimes winning, against the Commonwealth for centuries. This enemy had their own heavy infantry and owned the high ground. All the Commonwealth had was one puny PDC, fifteen hundred soldiers, and whatever courage was left after a planet-wide ass whoopin’.
<There are worse places to die.> Gwen convinced herself, as she sat back and hoped another kinetic bombardment didn’t swat them out of the sky before they reached the shelter of the PDC.