Two Worlds – Chapter 114

Gunnery Sergeant Gwen Cunningham

Location: JB Sullivan, Rogue Island, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 Gwen stood behind cover. The blackened and charred remains of a barracks, still smoking from the last attack hid her thermal signature from the enemy. Her eyes were fixed on a three-meter groove that had been cut into the ground. The Blockies had managed to sneak an energy cannon through the shields and set it up before Gwen could stop them. The invisible beam of pure heat and energy chewed up half a squad before an artillery round got through their swatters and destroyed it.

That was the essence of how the siege was going. What remained of the 8552nd and 4474th were constantly on the defensive, constantly reacting to what the Blockies were doing. The enemy was setting the tempo of the battle. If things got bad they just retreated outside the shield and regrouped while whittling away at the Commonwealth’s limited defenders.

<Commander shit-for-brains didn’t exactly help our cause.> Gwen shook her head at the disastrous first defense of the PDC.

By nature of seniority and assignment the Lieutenant Commander of the 4474th had overall command of the PDC.

The PDC’s defenders had prepared as best they could before the forward elements of the Blockie regiments arrived. Several hundred soldiers in the reds, greens, and browns of the Blockies’ service uniforms had set up a camp only a few hundred meters from the shield wall. The LCDR had waited too long before trying to break the enemy’s foothold. The four companies assigned the mission had to leave the safety of the PDC’s shield in order to attack a fortified position.

Gwen and another HI trooper from the 4474th had tagged along. Only Gwen came back. The Blockies already had their swatters up when Gwen initiated their artillery strike, so that was ineffective. To add insult to injury, they had to cross several open spaces of the destroyed joint base. They lost fifty men in the attempt, and didn’t even make it to the enemy lines. Gwen had to cover the retreat solo. She ran through her entire stockpile of rounds before making it back inside the shield.

The other officers were able to chalk that defeat up to not seizing the initiative soon enough. That was tactically forgivable, although fifty men wouldn’t agree. The LCDR’s next fuck up wasn’t.

Gwen knew from the start that their perimeter was too big for the fifteen hundred defenders to properly protect. They had fallback positions erected or dug, but the LCDR insisted that they hold the outer perimeter. The shield wall was a valuable defensive tool, but only to the point where they could stop the enemy from crossing it. If they couldn’t stop the enemy from breaching the wall then they needed to alter their tactics. The LCDR didn’t get that.

In the first Blockie attack a full regiment’s worth of troops nearly rolled up the Commonwealth units and swept them away. The 8552nd and 4474th were spread too thin, and they lost another two hundred men. Only the combined weight of all the HI troopers had broken the advance. And it had cost them.

Originally, the Commonwealth had a dozen HI on Rogue Island between the two battalions: the 8552nd with eight and the 4474th with four. Gwen’s battalion had lost four of the eight in the initial planetary bombardment. The 4474th lost another in the ill-conceived attack on the Blockies. The force needed to avoid disaster cost another three HI lives. Now they were down to four, and Gwen was in charge of them.

The regular grunts had started calling them the Four Horsemen, and Gwen in particular was the Full Metal Bitch. Currently, Gwen had divided the AO into four quadrants and each of the troopers was assigned one. Now, they were just waiting for intermission to end.

“I’ve got movement on the perimeter.” A voice came over the comms net assigned to Quadrant Two. Gwen was responsible for Quadrant One, but she still took a peek through that soldier’s eyes.

At first she didn’t see anything. The soldier was zoomed in to three times magnification, and looking at a section outside the wall about three hundred meters away. That was well within the effective range of the M3, but there was a lot of wrecked crap in-between.

<Gotcha.> Gwen saw the slight movement between two pieces of burning wreckage. If not for the light thrown off by the fire she might have missed it.

“Command, we’ve got a possible incursion at two-eight-five,” Gwen sent.

“Roger that, Checkmate Seven,” the confident voice of the 8552nd LCDR replied.

After getting two hundred and fifty of the Commonwealth’s fifteen hundred defenders killed, the LCDR of the 4474th had been politely asked to step aside and let the other LCDR take over.

“Beastmaster Two-Two, you have the ball.”

After taking command, the 8552nd LCDR abandoned the perimeter just within the shield wall and pulled back to a secondary perimeter two hundred meters back. But she didn’t surrender the land without a parting gift. Engineers seeded the area with mines before the defenders pulled out. The Blockies’ second attack had turned into a bloodbath. Gwen barely had to fire a shot and she was sure the enemy’s casualties were in the triple digits.

“Roger that, Chaos, I have the ball,” the ornery HI SSG responsible for Quadrant Two confirmed he had control of the mines placed in his AO. “Checkmate Seven, do me a favor and stop stepping on my dick.”

Gwen laughed, but didn’t respond. It was good to laugh before the coming death and destruction, so she savored it. Ten minutes became thirty minutes and then an hour. The initial adrenaline spike of having spotted the enemy was wearing off, so Gwen knew that was when they were going to get hit. The Commonwealth defenders were already tired and hungry. Now, the Blockies were using their own hormones against them.

A ball of fire exploded in the distance before the concussive BOOM reached Gwen’s LACS. The suit automatically filtered out the sound. She focused on the comms chatter, and immediately knew they were in trouble. Beastmaster hadn’t triggered the mine. The enemy had found it.

“Beastmaster, alter directional charge and detonate!” Gwen yelled as she got ready to assist. The TRPs were already in her databanks.

The mines on the perimeter had the ability to alter their cone of destruction for the greatest amount of carnage. On the first attack they were buried in the ground and pointing straight up. When the Blockie infantry got close enough they were shredded with shrapnel and tossed into the air. Obviously, the enemy had figured out what had happened to them and were adapting.

There were a few moments of calm before the entire world started erupting in bright flashes and mighty roars. Mines for several degrees on either side of the spotted Blockie detonated facing outward. The skeletal remains of bombed out structures were blown away. With her advanced optics Gwen even spotted the splatter of blood as the destruction reached the shield and was brought to a halt.

That was the big downfall of shield technology. Stuff couldn’t get in or out unless it was moving under a certain speed.

<If shields worked like they do in the movies then I wouldn’t have a job.> Gwen tried to look on the bright side just as Quadrant Two’s swatters blazed to life. The enemy had mortars or HI inside the shields now.

“LT, let me know if anyone is coming our way. I’m going to lend a hand.”

“Sure thing, Gunney.” LT Hyde, the OIC of this portion of Quadrant One’s defenses replied.

It wasn’t like the latest commander of Echo Company was going to say no. The rattle of gunfire and ensuing explosions up and down their lines was all the convincing she needed.

<Power is at seventy-seven percent.> Gwen started a quick self-inventory as she sprinted to the rear and looped around toward Quadrant Two. She toggled to the weapons menu. <I’ve got six missiles, and my rail gun has nine thousand rounds left. I’m a little thin on my cannon: only one thermobaric, five HE, ten anti-personnel, and another six EW.>

Close quarters was the reason for the rationing of thermobaric rounds. That kind of firepower would do as much damage to the PDC as the Blockies. They were running low on high explosive rounds from the previous attacks, but had plenty of anti-personnel rounds to make up for it. EW rounds were also getting eaten up quickly so that the offensive ordinance could actually make it through the Blockies’ defenses.

<I’ll have to make it work.> Her primary weapon would be the Buss for this attack. Beastmaster was dealing with the indirect fire and per his request she wouldn’t step on his dick unless he asked, or he got blown to shit.

She came into Quadrant Two from the rear and slowly started to work her way forward. It was a good rule of thumb for HI to not make their presence known until they had to. They tended to be a target on the battlefield. Still, it was pretty hard to hide in a three meter suit of armor. Thankfully, Gwen was very good at her job.

She blended in with the destroyed landscape and waited for her moment. The Commonwealth and Blockie lines exchanged fire. The lines undulated back and forth as units leaped forward and fell back; attacking and counter attacking in the dance of war. Gwen knew the steps to the dance and knew when her solo was coming.

She adjusted her position a few times as the data over STRATNET updated during the flow of the battle. There were a few times she wanted to launch some anti-personnel rounds into the mix, but Beastmaster’s ordinance landed shortly after. The SSG knew what he was doing. She left his dick alone.

Then the moment came. She was hunkered down on the edge of the line, and spotted a few squads of Blockie infantry trying to get around the edge. A dozen soldiers with enough fire power could turn Quadrant Two’s flank and drive a wedge between the two AOs that a hundred more troops could exploit.

Her job was to make sure that didn’t happen.

There was a twenty five meter opening the Blockies had to cross to reach an advantageous firing position, and that’s where she hit them.

A full platoon came into view as Gwen took aim. The Blockie armor wasn’t that different from the Commonwealth’s. Both interstellar powers understood the advantage of redirecting the force of an attack. The difference between the Commonwealth scales and the Blockie plates was a matter of size. The Commonwealth’s Dragonscales were smaller and gave the wearer an almost reptilian appearance. The smaller scales gave the Dragonscale armor more leverage than its Blockie counterpart. Blockie plates were much larger. A few dozen covered the whole soldier’s chest compared to the hundreds of scales. It made Blockie infantry look more like medieval knights than walking lizard-men. In addition, their plates were also a centimeter thinner than their Commonwealth counterparts. Blockie armor was cheaper and quicker to produce, but it wasn’t as effective as Dragonscales.

First, two THUMPS echoed from the end of Gwen’s Buss. The two grenades were fired at the forward and rear men in the platoon’s formation. Before the grenades even reached their targets the barrel was spinning toward the 3mm plasma round chamber and she was pulling the trigger. The point man, rear man, and a few soldiers around them disappeared in a ball of rapidly expanding fire and shrapnel. It was a silent death. She couldn’t hear their screams through their armor or over the chattering of her Buss.

The platoon hit the ground as soon as things started to explode around them, but they were caught in the open. Their armor was too thin to repel Gwen’s larger plasma-tipped rounds. Time seemed to slow as she watched their plates ripple in an attempt to shrug off the rounds. It was a futile effort as she saw her ammo punch into the Blockie soldiers. Sometimes the rounds came out the other side. Sometimes they didn’t, which meant they were rattling around the enemies’ armor turning the poor beings inside into something approaching human stew.

She didn’t think about it though. She went through a third of her ammo before laying of the trigger and targeting the survivors. They returned fire with their 1mm rounds, but her cover and armor made that fire as nonthreatening as rounds traveling a couple of thousand meters per second could be. Several got up and ran back the way they’d come. She shot them in the back and watched them crumble. Some tried to crawl for cover, and she got them too. A few might have survived in the chaos, but when he Buss fell silent her LACS computer had over two dozen confirmed kills.

She immediately moved. She’d already been in one position longer than was wise and wiping out most of a Blockie platoon was bound to catch someone’s attention. She was only about a hundred meters away when the bombed out remains of the building she’d been hiding in was completely flattened by an artillery strike. She felt bits of polyplast and concrete smack into her back, but they didn’t matter. What did matter was finding the next place the enemy would try to push through. She’d plug that hole and keep doing that until the Blockies…

“Checkmate! Get…” the link with Beastmaster went dead and his location became fuzzy on STRATNET.

Gwen turned on a dime, cutting a shallow trench into the ground with her boot and took off at a sprint for Beastmaster’s last known location. She reached speeds of over a hundred kilometers an hour and she sacrificed power for speed. She turned the final corner, lost her footing, slid, but dug her gauntleted fingers into the ground to make the turn.

<Motherfucker!>

Beastmaster grappled with a Nutcracker. Blades were out as the two heavily armored combatants fought for their lives. Beastmaster was losing. A long jagged cut already ran down the side of his armor where circuitry sparked when it wasn’t doused with the HI trooper’s blood.

“Break contact!” Gwen yelled.

Beastmaster listened immediately. He dodged a swipe and back peddled away from the Blockie Nutcracker. If this had been a summer holo-blockbuster Gwen would have closed with the enemy, her own blades out, and engaged in hand to hand combat until one of them was victorious.

That stuff was total bullshit. It was a great way to get killed, and a great way to get more of the soldiers you were responsible for killed while you played musketeer. Real soldiers went for the simplest solution.

Once Beastmaster opened enough space between him and the Nutcracker, Gwen engaged her railgun and started to spit hypersonic rounds into the Blockie. The big suit stumbled and fell before rolling to its feet and running for cover. Gwen continued to strike out at the enemy trooper until he dove behind the shattered remains of what was probably once a vehicle repair center.

“Move!” she rushed to Beastmaster’s side and grabbed him.

Her railgun rotated upward of its own accord and fired into the sky. It struck the artillery round fired from the retreating Blockie, but the shockwave threw them to the ground. Gwen rolled with it, came up in a kneeling position and fired one of her six precious missiles into the Blockie trooper’s last known location.

The explosion kicked up fire and debris twenty meters into the air and cut off any line of sight while Gwen and Beastmaster scrambled to their feet and retreated to a safer location. They ended up diving into a trench and startling the squad of infantry hunkered down there.

“Call for a medic,” she tapped into the comms net while she did what she could for Beastmaster.

The SSG growled as she shoved an adhesive bandage into the gap in his armor. They were low on supplies and the use of medical nanites was only allowed with the battalion surgeon’s authorization.

“It’s a flesh wound.” She tried to make the guy feel better about almost getting skewered by a Blockie.

“Thanks.” He grimaced, not wanting or willing to say anymore.

“Checkmate Seven this is Six, we need you back here ASAP. We’ve got movement on the perimeter.” LT Hyde radioed in.

“Roger that, Six. I’m in route now. ETA two minutes.”

“Yeah, get out of my AO.” Beastmaster urged, but Gwen was pretty sure he was smiling under his helmet.

<Back to the grind.> She didn’t say goodbye because she was sure she’d see him again.

This was standard Blockie strategy. They probed for weaknesses until the found something and hit them hard. It’s what she’d been dealing with for what seemed like forever.

<And I’m not sure how much longer we can hold out.> The casualty list from the last probe had a dozen dead and twice that many injured.

Eventually there just wouldn’t be anyone left to fight.

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