Location: Rogue Island, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“I heard they ran like a bunch of little bitches.”
“I heard that the Fleet is spanking them all up and down the system.”
“I heard you have a foot-long dick. That tells me you can’t believe everything you hear.” The gaggle of infantry sitting across from Eve laughed as their Spyder Assault shuttle rocketed through space toward Rogue Island’s upper atmosphere.
Unlike the three young grunts, Eve had a better idea what was going on. Her V3 LACS only had limited connectivity with the higher levels of STRATNET, but it didn’t take a genius to understand what happened. She doubted the Blockies were being little bitches or getting their asses spanked so easily. You didn’t stand toe-to-toe with the galactic starfaring powerhouse that was the United Commonwealth of Colonies by being cowardly or stupid. Most likely, the Blockies were executing a fighting retreat. They only had a handful of ships against the full might of the Commonwealth task force, so they couldn’t do more than harass the larger force as it approached the planet. The battlecruisers and destroyers had to be careful of the two Blockie battleships, but the twenty-plus Commonwealth battleships didn’t have much to worry about.
Of course, all of this meant jackshit to the infantry dropping onto the planet. All they cared about was that hornet’s nest they were about to kick over.
“Rangers, listen up.” The six SPECOPS members in the Spyder focused on their NCOIC.
Even though SGM Queen was present he wasn’t leading this operation. He was an extra gun, and a failsafe if shit really went sideways. The SGT was running the show.
“Latest intel says that the Blockies were able to pull half of their people off this rock before they had to bug out. Good news is that it only leaves us with a few battalions worth of them to kill. Bad news is, there are only a few battalions of them for us to kill.” That got some chuckles out of the other Rangers, but Eve kept her mouth shut.
“Our mission hasn’t changed. We’re going to land here and clear this area for an LZ. The infantry grunts on board are going to hold that position for the second wave once we’ve secured it. At that time, we are going to push toward the PDC. We’re only getting some snippets of radio transmissions getting through the Blockie’s jammers. We’re going to get to our people and assess the situation. Recon is doing the same from the east. And infantry is handling north and south. We’re creating a box around these remaining assholes. Once we’ve got them boxed in, were going to tighten the noose and finish them. Questions?”
There were no questions.
“Rangers lead the way!”
“Rangers lead the way!” The reply was loud and thunderous. They really were leading the way on this one. That, and they were competing with Recon to see who could get to the PDC first.
The first jerk of the Spyder hitting the atmosphere put an end to the SGT’s briefing. They were already locked in tight and secure, but every other Ranger onboard had done a combat drop before. If they were shutting up then there was a good reason.
What had started as a smooth ride to the planet suddenly deteriorated into a clusterfuck. Or at least that’s what if felt like. Eve nearly threw up in her LACS three times from all the crazy maneuvers and hairpin turns that seemed to defy the laws of physics. She felt bad for the regular infantry. With their thinner armor they’d be walking away from this ride with some ugly bruises.
But that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was not having any idea what the hell was going on. She was locked out of the Spyder’s external sensors along with everyone but the Ranger SGT and the infantry’s NCOIC.
<This is why I didn’t join the fleet.> She repeated several times as the Spyder dipped, dived, ducked, and dodged through Rogue Island’s atmosphere. <One second I’m ready to fight and then next I could be disintegrating ash making a nice light show across the sky. I want to be boots on the ground with my foot in someone’s ass. If I die I want to see it coming.>
“Ranger’s on your feet.”
Eve was surprised the command over TACCOM came right as the Spyder made a pretty sizable jerk.
Eve did what she was told without thinking. It was a good thing she did, because the back of the Spyder opened up and they were in a corkscrew.
Explosions and energy blasts filled her HUD as the flight of Spyders contended with the Blockies air defense artillery. Thankfully, most of the explosions seemed to be missiles getting blasted from the sky by the Spyder’s countermeasures, but she did see one assault shuttle get clipped and go into a death spiral.
<Fifty men gone just like that.>
It had been a long time since Eve felt true fear, so long she’d almost forgotten what it was. But there was no mistaking the emotion as it grabbed ahold of her gut and threatened to expel her meager meal one of two ways.
“Thirty seconds!” The SGT yelled as he cautiously stomped forward under the power of his suit. Without the suit, he would have snapped his leg in half from the sheer force of the evasive maneuvers.
“Let’s go, Berg.” The SGM prodded her forward as the rest of the Ranger team started marching toward the open rear ramp.
It took her a moment to figure out what was happening, but when she did she had to take a couple of deep breaths. It was common knowledge that a Spyder was at its most vulnerable when it was on the ground and dropping off troops. Plenty of good men and women had died in those crucial ten seconds of an operation. Plenty of good Rangers had too.
So the SPECOPS training and doctrine teams thought of ways to mitigate that risk for the expensively trained and equipped Rangers. With the V3s and their grav-boots the answer was simple: get out of the Spyder before it lands and becomes vulnerable. That was the SGT’s plan as they lined up three across and two deep on the ramp.
The Spyder was spinning toward the ground in a textbook combat descent. Eve’s HUD gave her some data to work off of.
<Three hundred meters…two-fifty…two hundred…one-fifty…one hundred…> Her eyes were glued to the spinning world beneath her.
“GO!” The SGT’s words cut through the daze and she punched in the command.
The grav-boots pulsed and she shot off the ramp. Unlike the two other people in her line who went straight she angled to the left.
“Berg, duck!” Was all the warning the SGM was able to give her before the jet wash from the Spyder’s engines swatted her from the sky like some annoying fly.
She went spinning out of control. For a second she couldn’t tell her ass from her head as her controls went haywire.
“Fucking newbie.” She heard the SGT’s words but couldn’t see him anymore.
<Find the horizon and orient.> Despite the vomit in her throat the training took over.
She concentrated on the gyroscope, lined up the horizon and fired her boots to reorient. It was a given that she was way out of position, but at least she wasn’t going to plow into the ground face first.
“I’m good.” Eve sent back to the SGM. She was too embarrassed to radio the SGT. “I’ll rendezvous with you guys in two minutes.”
She grabbed for her Buss at her side, which had miraculously stayed attached to her armor, and gripped it tight as she descended the last few meters to land on the top of a building. It had a nice rooftop garden that looked well-maintained, and there was even a little fountain at the center still spurting out H2O despite everything that was going on.
Thankfully, she’d been admiring the fountain or she would have missed the camouflaged bulge just to the side of it. That was all the warning she got before the RPG fired straight at her chest.
Instinct took over. She slid to the side with super-quickness like she was skating on air. The RPG flew wide and detonated against the side of the next building. Eve didn’t worry about that. Her HUD’s carrot was already lining up with the human figure next to the fountain and she was pulling the trigger. 3mm plasma tipped rounds churned through the fountain, the person, and the rooftop with minimal effort. There wasn’t even any deflection as the rounds killed her attacker.
“Contact at my location. One enemy down. SITREP to follow.”
The Ranger SGT acknowledged on TACCOM with a simple ping that lit up the comms channel green. He was too busy right now to worry about what some newbie had done when she was stupid enough to get in the way of a Spyder’s jet wash.
She moved quickly and efficiently after that. She approached what remained of the human body, which was getting drizzled on by the fountain she’d expertly killed as well. The body had no armor, only a set of fatigues that looked a few centuries old.
<It isn’t even smartcloth.>
“Sergeant Major, this guy wasn’t a Blockie. He was just some idiot with an RPG and not enough sense to know friend from foe.” She was surprised her voice held so much emotion. The guy had tried to kill her.
But that tended to happen the first time you killed another human being in anger.
“Shake it off, Berg. It was probably one of the insurrectionists that were fighting it out with us before the Blockies rolled into town. Focus on the mission and get your ass over here.” The SGM cut the line and Eve took his advice.
She shook it off, moved to the edge of the roof, and jumped. Her boots activated and she skated off toward the rendezvous point where the infantry were securing the perimeter. She didn’t meet any more resistance along the way. Apparently, the RPG taking down some apartment building’s wall was enough to have anyone else nearby shelter in place.
While she was busy dealing with the lone militiaman, the rest of the Rangers and infantry had been mopping up the LZ. When she arrived there were half a dozen camouflaged bodies in the reds, browns, and greens of Blockie infantry.
“Berg, get your shit together.” Were the only words of wisdom the SGT gave her before he gave the order to move out.
The headed off in the direction of the PDC. They advanced as buddy teams over a three block area with a block separating them. One went low, moving quickly and efficiently through the deserted streets. The other went high, providing overwacth as they moved from rooftop to rooftop. They met minimal resistance, nothing a Buss couldn’t handle, and by the time they’d reached the outskirts of the PDC Eve had two more kills under her belt.
Those kills felt legitimate though. They’d been Blockie regulars in armor fighting to keep the Rangers from advancing toward their objective. They hadn’t been some local moron who thought they could take on a highly-trained special operations trooper in heavy armor with an antiquated weapons system. No matter how hard she tried to shake it she couldn’t get the look of that poor bastard out of her head. Most of his chest had been blasted to smithereens by the 3mm round, but the look of surprise on his face was something she doubted she’d forget today.
<Focus, Eve.> She stopped the pity-party and focused on her corners.
The orange overlay of the PDC’s shield on her HUD rose up in front of her when the six Rangers reconsolidated. Everything was quiet, but they were still having some trouble getting communications through. Wherever the jammer was they hadn’t destroyed it yet.
“I just hope they don’t shoot us in the ass.” The SGT actually sounded happy as they approached the shield.
Like anything moving below a certain speed they passed right through the invisible energy barrier. Things looked just as bad on the inside as they did from the outside. The PDC had been chewed up and shit out. There were hardly any structures left standing except for the central buildings. Even the shield generator looked like it had taken some hits. If Eve was to take an educated guess she’d say the shield wasn’t even operating at one hundred percent anymore.
<It was a good thing we got here when we did.> She doubted they would have lasted another twenty-four hours.
“Attention JB Sullivan PDC. This is Ricochet One-One, leading Ranger Team One coming in with six friendlies at your two-seven-zero. Please acknowledge.”
Now was the moment of truth. They’d see if there was anyone still left defending the PDC and if they’d beaten the Recon guys to the objective. Eve honestly couldn’t tell you which one the SGT was more excited about.
“Thank fucking god.” A voice came over TACCOM after a few tense seconds. “This is Chaos Six. Authenticate: Bravo-Zulu- Eight-Niner-Zero-Four.”
“Authenticate: Alpha-Delta- Seven-Six-Two-Seven.” The SGT replied back. The V3s connection with the PDCs STRATNET node should have been enough to confirm they were who they said they were, but Eve couldn’t blame the local commander for wanting additional authentication after all the shit they’d gone through.
“Good copy, Ricochet One-One. We’re holding fire. Thanks for answering our call.”
“It’s what we do.” The SGT made the move-out motion and they started bounding forward toward the shield generator.
“Be advised, Ricochet One-One, we’re black on just about everything. We need immediate medical attention for multiple wounded. We need body bags, and we need to get the fuck off this piece of shit rock.”
“Roger that, Chaos Six, we’ll pass along the message.”
They saw the first signs of the resistance about two hundred meters from the shield generator. A squad of ragtag looking soldiers poked their heads out of a hole and gave the Ranger team a wave. Eve waved back, but was the only one to do so.”
“Rangers, I’m going to confer with Chaos. I want you five to start triage. Mark the wounded on STRATNET so that the docs can prioritize when they arrive. Judging by the numbers I’m getting we’re going to need most of the task force’s medics down here.”
They split up as information started to update on their HUD as the local commander gave them access to their STRATNET data.
<Shit,> was all the Eve could think of as she saw the numbers of black and red icons start to climb higher and higher.
Their briefing said there had been two full battalions on the planet. From what she was seeing on her screen, only about seven hundred were still up and moving.
<Only thing I can do is get to work.> She pinged a location that she was going to handle and approached it.
It was bad.
Lots of soldiers had holes in them. A few were missing limbs, there was a lot of blood outside of bodies, and those seriously injured were only being kept alive by their armor. One by one Eve walked up to the wounded and made a connection by touching her gauntlet to their helmets. She analyzed their armor’s data and identified them as: urgent, urgent surgical, priority, routine, and convenience. Those that didn’t look like they could hold out were marked as convenience because it would be convenient to remove their bodies from the battlefield for hygienic safety purposes. No one wanted any lingering bacteria causing any infections.
For the most part, the soldiers she dealt with were priority. They needed to be evacuated promptly or within four hours. If they didn’t they’d be in deep shit. There were a few routine cases in the bunch, so they could last a day before getting transportation. But for every routine case there was an urgent or urgent surgical. These soldiers needed to get out of there ASAP or within two hours. Some needed to go straight to the nearest surgical unit if they wanted to live.
Even though she wasn’t supposed to, she gave most of her supply of medical nanites to the urgent or urgent surgical patients to get them just a little extra time to get help.
“We’ve got a few more over here.” A CPL was helping her with the triage. He had a broken foot but was otherwise unharmed. With some improvised crutches he was making himself useful.
He led Eve around some rubble and toward two hulking figures.
“We dug them out of a destroyed building about twelve hours ago. Battalion Doc gave them the last of our medical nanites six hours ago.”
Eve knelt down and made a connection with the HI trooper. He was a SSG and he was priority. The medical nanites were doing their job to stop the cerebral hemorrhaging. The broken bones could wait, but he needed to get out of here soon.
She tagged him and moved on to the second suit. The usually grayish metal was mixed brown and black now. Black from burns and brown from being buried alive. She made the connection and immediately could tell the trooper was unconscious.
That wasn’t the only thing she figured out.
“Gunney!” Eve couldn’t believe it. Her Basic instructor, who seemed more goddess than mortal woman, was lying before her on the brink of death.
There was lots of internal bleeding. Thirty percent of the bones in her body were broken. Her oxygen levels were really low, but the worst of all was the radiation poisoning. She’d been way too close to an energy blast, which explained the burn marks. Whatever reason she had for being so close the result was that her body was quickly giving up. The armor had recorded two seizures in the last two hours. Her lungs had severe inflammation and scaring, her white blood cell count was way down, and there were bad burns across her skin despite the armor.
She was urgent if Eve had ever seen one.
<I can’t just mark her and move on.> That’s what Eve should have done and she knew that. But this was Gunney Cunningham. She couldn’t just leave her like another random soldier.
“Sergeant Major. I’ve got a Ranger down over here.” Eve skipped the SGT and went straight to the big guy.
“Mark them and move on, Private.” The SGM replied emotionlessly.
“I…I can’t, Sergeant Major. I know her from Basic. She’s an ass kicker. I can’t just leave her.”
Her reply was met with several seconds of silence. “Bring her to the casualty collection point. We’ll put her on the first bird out of here.” The line went dead, and Eve knew she was going to catch some shit for it.
<Don’t care.> She thanked the CPL for his help and hoisted the GYSGT up over her shoulder. She walked around to the other side of the shield generator where a new LZ was being cleared out for an incoming wave of birds.
She got the first signs of life from the GYSGT when she half lowered; half dropped her onto the asphalt among the other urgent candidates.
“What the fuck?” The Gunney was groggy, clearly in pain, and clearly not wanting to be moved.
“Take it easy, Gunney. We’re getting you out of here.” Eve patted the NCO’s armored shoulder, which only made her wince.
“I must be dead. Because you sound like Berg, and if I’m getting rescued by some newbie right out of Basic then you might as well leave me to die.” Her laugh turned into a cough.
“It’s been a while, Gunney. I’m a Ranger now. I’m not going to leave you behind.” That seemed to instill some sense of calm in the older NCO before she lost consciousness again.
Thankfully, that was when the first flight of Spyders poked through the cloud cover and came down hard toward the PDC. They were taking much less fire than the first wave, but not all of the Blockies’ ADA batteries were down yet. Eve didn’t see anyone take more than superficial damage.
The Spyders landed in a straight line where people and hovering pallets started to stream off of them. Medical nanites by the truckload were going to be used to stabilize and save lives before they could get the wounded up to the surgical suites on the warships. Eve was able to talk a specialist out of an injection and quickly used it on the GYSGT. It was still a decent ride up to the ships parked in orbit and she didn’t want her dying before they got there. Since Eve was the only person capable of picking the GYSGT up, she got her onto the assault shuttle. She was about to get off when the SGM stopped her.
“We’re hitching a ride with them, Berg.”
“Why?” Eve looked down the ramp at the chaos.
“We’re the tip of the spear not the shaft. We have other MOS’s that are taking over now. We did our job. You kind of screwed the pooch at the beginning, but you did ok.”
Eve blushed under her suit, but the SGM never saw it.
“Pop a squat and run those diagnostics you love to run. We’ll hitch a ride to Valkyrie, do an AAR, shower, and get ready for wherever they send us next because if there is one constant in the Ranger Brigades, it is that there is never a shortage of stuff to do.
Eve thought a shower sounded pretty good, and her mind was concentrated on that as the Spyder’s ramp shut tight behind her and took off back toward the ships.
She was cut off from everything going on outside the shuttle when TACCOM was suddenly flooded with traffic and requests, so much so that the system went offline and had to reboot. STRATNET was also pinging off the hook as new contacts were recognized. Eve was oblivious to all of it as she rode in the quiet cargo bay.
This wasn’t over yet.