Location: Alcubierre Bubble, United Commonwealth of Colonies
00 ERROR CODES
Eve closed out the screen on her LACS HUD and toggled to the weapons menu, selected the 250mm spine-mounted artillery tube and initiated another diagnostic. Idle hands were not a good thing for a soldier, especially a soldier on their way into battle. Eve needed to be doing something, and since she was forced to sit around she might as well triple check that all of her gear was good to go.
CWS Valkyrie was hurtling through space faster than the speed of light on a course for the besieged planet of Rogue Island. She was one of twenty-two other battleships, two assault carriers, eight battlecruisers, and nineteen destroyers hastily consolidated into a task force with the mission to retake the planet.
After a brief reconnaissance that Eve wasn’t even around for, orders came down to the Commonwealth units in Syracuse to dispatch the reconnaissance task forces that had originally been patrolling the porous border with the Eastern Block. Third Fleet would remain in Syracuse and serve as a quick reaction force, but the data gathered during the recon of Rogue Island showed that the task force should be able to handle it without the fleet.
They were going into the system with limited intelligence, knowing there was a Blockie fleet in the area, and not even sure if the two battalions under siege at the PDC were still breathing.
<We’ve got to try.> Eve wasn’t sure if every other soldier in the task force believed they’d find those two thousand soldiers still alive, but they were all in agreement that if they were the one’s neck deep in shit’s creek then they hoped some other grunts would be willing to risk their asses to pull them out.
There were over twenty-five thousand grunts about to do just that.
“I can see you fidgeting in there, Berg. Relax and enjoy the ride.” SGM Queen contacted her through TACCOM so the rest of the Rangers couldn’t hear.
Valkyrie was carrying six of the special operatives – a short squad – including Eve and the SGM. They were in an enclosed section of infantry country known as SOCOM territory. They had their own briefing room, quarters, and separate armory for their better equipment. To make matters even more interesting, there was four Recon Marines sharing the space as well.
Just like with the Fleet and Infantry, there was a healthy rivalry between the different R&S units. Recon bragged that they were more elite than the Rangers, and Rangers told Recon to shove it where the sun didn’t shine. Recon thought they were better because there were fewer of them – thus being more elite. They also did more solo drops than the Ranger Brigades and tended to work in smaller groupings. Sometimes just in teams of two scouting enemy positions. On the contrary, the Rangers thought they were better because they were the true tip of the spear. They saw more frontline action, they were the ones that turned the tides of battles, and while the information Recon might discover was valuable, the Rangers were what turned lines of data into measurable results.
There had been a balance of power before Eve and the SGM arrived, now it had swung decisively in the Rangers’ favor, which was probably why the four seasoned Rangers weren’t ragging on Eve too much. That and she spent most of her time with a SGM.
“Transition in two minutes …Transition in two minutes.” The message repeated over TACCOM.
“Ok ladies, sound off if you’re good to go.” Their leader, a sturdy looking SGT, walked down the aisle. He’d tried to give command to the SGM, but SGM Queen made it clear this wasn’t his show. He was just along for the ride.
“Unless you fuck up.” The SGM made that clear. “Then I’ll save everyone’s ass before kicking yours.”
“Good to go.” Eve didn’t hesitate. Every diagnostic she’d run had come back green.
“After transition we head to the Spyders. We’re going to be hitching a ride with the rest of the grunts. Our objective is this block of New Providence. We are going to be the first boots on the ground in this grid square. We will secure the landing zone for the rest of Valkyrie’s three-company detachment and then push toward the PDC. An unknown number of Blockie regulars are waiting there for us. We will proceed to end their miserable existence before getting our troopers out. Hopefully by then the brass will have made the call on what to do next. We’ll either be settling in for garrison ops, or possibly putting down a little rebellion until we are relieved or bug out. Be prepared for either.”
They’d gone over the plan multiple times in transit, but repetition was what made information sink in. She could practically see the holo-map of their LZ in her mind’s-eye and knew her portion of the op down to the letter.
Unconsciously, she started running a diagnostic on her Buss and double checking the ammo count for the tenth time.
“Transition in three…two…one…” A wave of uneasiness passed through Eve as they dropped out of their Alcubierre Bubble and back into normal space.
She couldn’t see anything that was happening, but she’d been briefed. The task force was coming out of Alcubierre at different accelerations to form a predetermined formation. The destroyers and battlecruisers transitioned at a higher rate of speed. The destroyers were dispersing in a wedge tens of millions of kilometers long. Their job was to spot any danger before the task force got sucked in. The battlecruisers transition faster than the battleships but slower than the destroyers. They were moving to the flanks and putting space between themselves and the main battleship force. If anything tried to sneak up on them from the side the battlecruisers would see them coming. At the center of the screening elements were the twenty-two battleships and their nearly seven thousand marines. They got into their own formation to protect the most vital ships in the fleet. The two assault carriers sat at the center of it all with their eighteen thousand marines, multiple fighter wings, and task force commander.
When they hit orbit, half of those marines would be ferried down to the planet along with most of the battleships’ contingents. The rear admiral in charge of all of this clearly thought that a brigade and a half of troops wasn’t overkill. In Eve’s eyes, that meant they were in for a fight.
“Let’s go, Rangers. To the Spyders!”
Eve and the five other suits of armor were up and on the move.
“I guess you Recon guys can come too.” That got some laugher and grumbling depending on what tab you had.
There was a lot of commotion in the corridors as the ten SOCOM soldiers moved toward their designated Spyder. Valkyrie’s crew of nearly three thousand was at battlestations while their three hundred marines were all streaming toward the Spyders. The ship had six, just enough for everyone to make it down in one flight. MPs helped direct traffic when it got too congested, but that wasn’t a problem for the Rangers. In armor, they were closing in on three meters tall in some cases and people had a tendency to get out of the way of a moving war machine.
Eve passed an HI trooper who looked to be the only other fully-armored infantryman on the ship. She couldn’t help but think of Coop. He’d be done with HI school now, and off in some corner of the universe kicking ass and taking names.
<And trying to sweet talk anything with two legs and tits.> She laughed to herself. She doubted Coop had changed one bit.
“Berg, get your head in the game.” SGM Queen barked when she hesitated to strap into the combat harness.
“Yes, Sergeant Major.” She situated herself and started the long waiting game.
It would be hours until they got close enough to launch the Spyders, but that didn’t stop the powers that be from stuffing all their infantry into the birds and making them sit it out without any idea of what was going on around them.
Eve was better off than most. Her suit offered other options that the regular grunts didn’t have. She didn’t take advantage of any of them. Instead, she started running diagnostics again.
<Better safe than sorry…or dead.>
Gunnery Sergeant Gwen Cunningham
Location: JB Sullivan, Rogue Island, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Gwen stumbled and tried to shake off the vertigo that gripped her body. She only partially succeeded, and then was immediately knocked on her ass when as explosion rocked the world only a few meters away. The explosion picked her up and flung her away. Her systems went haywire and she tried to reorient.
“They’ve got me zeroed!” she shouted over TACCOM. “Will someone please find and kill that son-of-a-bitch!”
All she got back was crackling static.
<Fuck!> She started to get up but pain lanced through her leg.
She didn’t even notice the medical codes flashing on her HUD or the suit breach until then. Her hands immediately went to one of the accessible hatches to grab a tube. The hand moved with a mind of its own and secured the tube even while Gwen tried to get through the initial shock of her injury. The hand found the section of armor where the explosion had torn off the Dragonscales and punctured the duro-steel. Once she assessed the damage she squeezed and black goo sloshed out of the tube and onto the injured section. The black substance full of nanites adhered to the opening and filled the breech before hardening. It wouldn’t take a direct hit, but it was better than nothing.
Her shoulder-mounted railgun swiveled and let off a burst as another shell plummeted toward her. The explosion rocked her again, but it was far enough away that it didn’t matter. She took that moment to get to her feet and make a run for a friendly position. Only problem was that her leg gave out after a few steps.
<You’ve got to be shitting me!> She felt the tingling sensation of her LACS filling her up with drugs. Whatever was wrong it wasn’t good. She couldn’t support the weight of her armor anymore and if she didn’t move, the Blockie’s accurate artillery was going to turn her to paste.
“Beastmaster, I’m calling in that favor now.”
“Shit.” Was the only response she got, but her armor responded to a STRATNET ping.
Beastmaster was still several hundred meters away, but that might as well be kilometers in a war zone. Gwen needed to find cover and get out of the artillery barrage if she wanted to survive. She limped awkwardly, putting more power than she should into the suit. Her railgun detonated the incoming ordinance overhead, but it kept giving away her position.
Finally, some loud booms in the distance created a lull in the fire and gave her some breathing room. She ducked into a meter and a half deep trench that had been carved into the ground by energy fire. She crawled for nearly a hundred meters until it ended at the side of a mostly destroyed building. She hefted herself out and rolled behind the exposed foundation.
Beastmaster found her there a few minutes later.
“Gunney, you look like shit.” He grunted as he gripped her under the arms and pulled her to her feet.
The adrenaline rush of getting away from the indirect fire was over, and Gwen felt as weak as a limp doll. All of her energy was gone.
“Let’s get out of here.” They linked their railguns for added defense and started to bound away from the building.
They were a second too late.
The PDC’s shield opened up to fire its energy cannons at the enemy. It was just rotten luck that at the same moment incoming fire from some warship in orbit came streaking down and hit the shield at that exact spot. The death ray got cut off the moment the shield went back up, but by then over a hundred terawatts of energy streaked through the PDC at the speed of light and collided with the building Gwen and Beastmaster had just abandoned.
All Gwen heard was the roar of the explosion before everything went black.