Gunnery Sergeant Gwen Cunningham
Location: FOB Oldport, Rogue Island, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Gwen watched the Spyder’s sensors as she gripped the hull hard enough to dent it. They were flying about ten meters off the ground just a little under supersonic speeds. This nap-of-the-earth flying was about as real as it got. The Spyder’s pilots were hugging the surface while trying not to hit it. So far, it had been a few minutes of pants-shitting terror for the remaining soldiers of Echo Company 8552nd Infantry Battalion, which occurred directly after the vomit-inducing horror of losing half their company to an orbital kinetic strike.
“MANPAD firing twelve kilometers to port, two-zero-one degrees, heading away from us. BRACE!”
This time Gwen had time to brace for the impact that rattled the fleeing assault shuttle.
“Energy discharge in grid sector Delta Two. We should be good, but I’m changing course. We’ll be coming in on a nine-zero bearing instead of at one-eight-zero, Sullivan.”
As the company NCOIC, Gwen had authorization to tap into the Spyder’s systems. She saw the radiation levels climbing off to their port side as the energy dispersed as some warship in orbit wiped out the Rogue Island militia’s MANPAD team.
The locals’ man-portable air-defense systems might have been able to shoot at the Commonwealth drop from Coral Sea without receiving any retribution, but that was clearly not the case now. The enemy was using overkill to deal with the pesky natives.
“One minute!” The pilot yelled over the internal comms system as Gwen felt the shuttle bank hard to starboard.
They were still a little over twenty kilometers from the Joint Base, but Gwen was just beginning to see the planetary capitol of New Providence. Things did not look good.
There was a lot of fire and smoke. There weren’t any mushroom clouds in sight, but radiation levels were rising; meaning the enemy was using precision energy strikes to deal with any resistance. Those attacks were easy to clean up, and it didn’t immediately turn the population against the conquerors. It was a standard tactic in planetary management change. Dealing with a few thousand soldiers was easier than dealing with hundreds of thousands or millions of civilians. If the conquerors didn’t want an insurgency they needed to play nice and not blow everything up right off the bat.
Rogue Island was perfect for this strategy, and Gwen was sure the Blockies knew it. <They’ve got a planet in civil war mode, only a two battalion garrison force, and no navy to challenge them. It’s like Christmas in July for these assholes.> It was fall on Rogue Island, but the sentiment stayed the same.
As she watched through the sensors she saw a lance of red light flash down into the city. She couldn’t hear the explosion, but a fireball rose a hundred meters into the air. Energy discharges couldn’t be seen with the naked eye, but her LAC’s HUD gave her the visual aide of seeing where the Blockies were shooting.
They were close enough now to see their destination. Just like the unseeable energy discharges, the shields of the Planetary Defense Center required a HUD interface to view. What Gwen was shown was a dome of overlapping hexagon-shaped energy barriers. They glowed a vibrant, power-filled orange, and even as she watched she saw a second red lance strike at the field. Orange beat red, and the shield didn’t even shimmer as the energy attack died against it.
<Probing,> she thought as the Spyder raced toward safety.
“Rogue Three, panel one-three-six will open in ten seconds. Cut speed to…”
“Missile lock! Motherfucker!” The pilot shouted, cutting off the JB’s operator. “Closing fast. No can do, Sullivan, we’re coming in hot.”
“Rogue Three, wait one.” The operator cut the line to talk to someone.
<Come on!> Gwen mentally screamed as she saw the orange dome grow rapidly in front of them.
The pilot had committed. They were either going to take a missile up the ass, splatter like a bug on the windshield against the shield, make it through but not be able to slow down before impacting the opposite side of the shield, or they’d get lucky and make it in safely. Judging by all of that, she gave them a twenty-five percent change of living.
“Knock knock, Sullivan. Open up!” The pilot didn’t bother trying to sound calm and confident for the shield operator.
They were right on top of the shield when … one of the orange hexagon’s vanished for the split second it took the Spyder to cross the threshold. It sprang back to life half a second later to catch the militia-fired MANPAD.
It seemed the local didn’t care who they were shooting at. Everyone not them was fair game.
But it wasn’t over yet. The space within the shield was only about a kilometer in diameter, which didn’t leave a lot of room for maneuvers. Gwen was one of the few not thrown forward as the pilot went full reverse on the anti-gravs.
Gwen heard Rogue Three wail in agony as inertial forces threatened to pull it apart, and they partially succeeded. She heard the master alarm blaring through the cockpit and saw the little icon pop up on her HUD.
Despite the damage, the pilot was still able to pull up. That gave them another kilometer of space to deal with before they hit the top of the dome. He went inverted into a barrel roll near the top of the dome, which brought all the soldiers crashing down across the troop compartment, and pulled up into a hover fifty meters off the ground before softly setting it down.
Gwen swallowed the vomit that had made its way into her throat and took stock of her soldiers. Very few showed the green status of one hundred percent combat readiness. Most were yellow, including the new CO. A few were red and needed immediate medical attention, and there were more black than she was comfortable with.
<Better a few dead than another fifty.> Her cold, calculating side took over as she dug her fingers out of the hull. She hadn’t penetrated the duro-steel, but there would be a mark that clearly stated Gunnery Sergeant Gwen Cunningham had held on for dear life in Rogue Three.
The ramp started to lower, but something in it was broken, because it went crashing the last half of the way to the ground. A ground crew stopped in shock as the heavy metal dug deep into the base’s tarmac.
“Squad leaders, reds are priority. Get them off and have the base medical teams come fetch them. Triage the yellow, and leave the black until we’re all squared away.”
Affirmative replies came back over the company net. Although, the NCOs were clearly shaken.
“Ma’am.” Gwen approached LT Hyde, who judging by her armor’s readings had a broken left forearm. The armor and CMUs had automatically hardened around the area into a splint, but she still couldn’t stabilize her weapon properly with the injury. “Battalion command is going to want a SITREP and debrief from us personally. We’ll get our marching orders from there and set up for the base’s defense.”
There was a moment of silence. “Yeah,” the small woman finally replied. “We better get to it then.”
She passed command of the company’s remains to the senior NCO, the staff sergeant from fourth squad, and walked with the young officer toward the center of the base.
PDC’s tended to have a similar layout no matter what world they were on. They often were stationed at the center of a military base with large highways running to them for civilian evacuation purposes. Gwen doubted there were a lot of civilians present, and the highways leading into the PDC had large chunks missing from energy attacks. Beneath the shield of the PDC were several military structures and defenses designed for the very situation Gwen found herself in the middle of. Since it wasn’t a situation anyone wanted civilians in, the shelters to hold them were subterranean and within the shield’s perimeter.
Judging by the shield’s ability to make contact with the ground without disrupting tectonic plates, and the strategic unimportance of Rogue Island, this PDC was probably protected by a level one – maybe level two shield. The scale went all the way up to six. There were only a few level six shields, and they exclusively protected high priority targets, like New Washington or Asgard. Stronger shields needed a buffer zone between them and the planet’s surface.
At the center of the PDC were its most defining features. There was a fifty meter wide and tall half-sphere of gleaming metal that seemed to shimmer like a mirage. That was the shield generator that projected the overlapping hexagon barriers that comprised the shield. It was pumping out energy either drawn from the core of the planet, or giant power-plant buried deep beneath the surface.
Next to the half-sphere was a thick spire rising two hundred meters into the air. The spire was bristling with weaponry. Fifty centimeter guns swiveled across the surface of the spire and took aim at something in the distance. In a dance coordinated down to the millisecond the cannon fired just as the shield flickered. The dazzling beam of red exited the shield in that quarter-second flicker and shot at light speed across the horizon.
It hit something, because a speck of fire erupted in the distance. If Gwen turned to the right network there was probably some cheering, but she doubted they’d killed more than a dropship ferrying troops to the surface.
“Gunney?” LT Hyde pulled her away from the spectacle. “They’re waiting for us.” The officer held the door open to a small building sitting next to the shield generator.
Gwen gave the PDC a last look. She could see a couple hundred troops running around in full armor preparing for the siege, but even from a casual glance she could tell they were grossly understaffed for what was to come.
<Seems like the story of my life recently.> Gwen sighed and followed her new CO into the air-conditioned command center.
It wasn’t much to look at. Half a dozen holo-tables were manned by the staff NCOIC’s coordinating the defense and analyzing any data coming in. In the center was the main display which the 8852nd battalion’s CO, XO, SGM, and the remaining company command teams were studying intently.
“Echo?” The CO looked like she’d aged ten years in the last two days. “Maddox?”
“Kinetic strike during the withdrawal, Ma’am.” Gwen answered when the LT didn’t.
The LCDR took a deep breath and let it out while looking down at the ground. “That’s another good young officer sacrificing everything for this armpit of a planet.”
The LCDR’s animosity was a surprise, but it wasn’t like Gwen disagreed. Rogue Island was a shithole.
The LCDR collected herself and turned back to the battalion’s remaining officers. “This has been an intel fuck up of monumental proportions.” She gave a flick of the wrist and an image appeared.
It looked like it had been taken by their stealth satellite in orbit just seconds before being blown into space dust. Gwen could only see a few black specks that stood out on normal optics, but toggling over to the active sensor readout showed the real picture.
“Higher was beefing up our presence in this sector because they felt the Blockies were going to hit them at Syracuse. Turns out they were wrong.” The sensor imagery showed a fleet of warships, a lot of them.
Most of the bigger ones looked like they were keeping their distance. <Setting up a battle wall for the counterattack,> Gwen assumed. But a force of smaller warships were heading for Rogue Island.
“If those are destroyers or cruisers…” Alpha’s commander’s eyes bulged.
“Then we’re looking at a couple regiments hitting the dirty to pound on us.”
Regiments were a Blockie unit of organization. Unlike the Commonwealth, who’d streamlined their unit structures centuries ago, the Blockies maintained older traditions. They had platoons, companies, battalions, regiments, divisions, and then armies; but you could have anywhere from two to six of the lower units comprising a higher unit depending on the specialty. If they were dropping straight infantry, then it would look something like: six thirty-man platoons to a company, four companies to a battalion, and six battalions to a regiment. Or at least that was the unit organization of the last Blockie regiment Gwen went up against. But it still added up to over four thousand soldiers a regiment, and if they were dropping multiple regiments…
<Those aren’t good odds.> Three hundred to one might be survivable against obsolete local militias, but five to one odds against trained Blockies was suicide.
Their only advantage was their defensive position, but with a thin perimeter that wouldn’t last long.
“Our mission is going to be to hold out until the Fleet shows up in orbit. They’ll duke it out with the Blockies and that’ll determine if we live or die.” It was stating the obvious, but they all needed the familiarity of an operations order now.
“Why us?” LT Hyde sent to Gwen on a private channel. “Why are we going to die?”
“Because we’re here,” Gwen answered simply. She’d stopped looking for a higher meaning to the madness long ago. “Pull it together, LT. We’re going to need you soon.”