Location: Yangon, Eastern Block
Eve slid around the corner. She lost her footing and had to put a hand out to stop herself from crashing into the far wall of the beat-down bodega. 3mm rounds smacked into the wall less than a meter from her head as she recovered and hauled ass.
“You better be fucking ready,” she huffed over TACCOM. She had her V3 LACS’ artificial muscles pumping at one hundred percent on top of her own enhancements.
She couldn’t be sure but she was falling back at close to fifty kilometers per hour. It had all the hallmarks of a full retreat, and that’s exactly what she wanted the Blockies to think. No fewer than three Nutcrackers and a few squads of regular grunts were in pursuit. A chance to kill a Commonwealth Ranger was a high honor in their military culture, and it came with a sizable bonus.
“Copy that, Vixen-Two. We’ve got you on STRATNET. Take a right four blocks up and we’ll be waiting.”
<Good. I made it out of no-man’s-land.> She thought about the space between the advancing Commonwealth brigade and the defending Blockies. The place was so pumped full of EW systems that line-of-sight was the most reliable way to keep in contact with friendlies.
Making it out of that hellhole was half the battle. The other half was getting the enemy right where she wanted them.
<Being bait still fucking sucks,> she huffed as she forced herself to slow down to make the turn.
Rounds cracked into buildings all around her. A 3mm one smacked into her shoulder and sent her off course hard into the wall of some local pharmacy. It didn’t penetrate her armor, but it forced her to take a second to dislodge from the weird plastic stucco the Blockies liked to use as cheap building material.
“Motherfucker!” She gasped as no fewer than six, smaller 1mm rounds slammed into her chest.
It would have been game-set-match, but her V3 was a tough nut to crack. She shrugged off the hits and built back up to a full sprint down the new street.
“Vixen-Two, you’re too close.” The harried voice on the other side of TACCOM announced as Eve barreled down the street.
“Vixen-Two, we need to abort.”
“No fucking way!” Eve replied just as the three Nutcrackers rounded the corner behind her.
The Blockie HI were scuffed up from over six hours of fighting, but their plate-like armor still worked like a charm, and so did their shoulder-mounted missile launchers.
MISSILE LOCK blazed on Eve’s HUD a moment before her railgun’s automated function kicked in. The weapons swiveled to the rear and let loose. Three missiles were already inbound and building to hypervelocity speeds. Still, her next-gen software and rate of fire allowed her railgun to swat all three from the sky. Eve didn’t even have time to whoop with joy before the shockwave washed over her. If not for the junker sitting in the street she would have ridden the wave, but instead she smashed into and over it. She wound up on her ass, and took cover as more 3mm and 1mm rounds started to chew up the old car’s frame.
“Fire!” she didn’t even realize the word flew out of her mouth.
“Just shoot the fucking thing!”
Instead of running, Eve curled up into a ball and prepared to activate her ES armor feature.
“Roger that, firing in three…two…”
Eve felt rounds starting to eat through the car and into her back before heat, light, and fire engulfed the street.
It had been part of some genius LT’s plan to draw a portion of this area’s defenders away from their entrenchments by dangling a Ranger in front of them. Eve got the job because she was the fucking new girl. As the FNG, she got all the shit jobs, which this time involved running from twenty-plus Blockies. The plan had been for her to make it back behind the safety of their lines before ruining those Blockies’ day with a Mobile Energy Cannon (MEC). The big, bulky contraption was basically a destroyer-level energy cannon that the Infantry got to haul around and blow shit up with. The brigade only had two in their MTOE, so getting allocated one was a big deal, but with no fewer than three Nutcrackers defending this section of the town they needed to be smart.
Of course, being smart only got you so far. Eve had been in enough fights that she knew luck played a big part in staying alive. The plan wasn’t half bad, and the execution had been done pretty well if she said so herself, but her luck ran out there at the end.
Two-hundred terawatts turned the street into a shitshow. Error codes flooded Eve’s HUD as the sustained blast killed two of the three enemy HI and seventy percent of the grunts. The other HI only survived because he moved behind his soon-to-be deceased comrade, and the thirty percent of regular grunts lived because they were dragging ass in the pursuit.
Eve didn’t get to see the rest.
“Exiting virtual simulation,” a voice announced in the cube Eve was currently occupying.
“Ah shit,” Eve grumbled. She felt blood in her mouth where she’d bitten her tongue, and she spit the iron-tasting saliva onto the ground.
“Analysis rendering…analysis rendering…”
Eve waited patiently for the computer to tell her how badly she’d screwed up while she tried to fight off the VR crash. Her nerves still felt the singe of the energy blast that had washed over her, and it was taking her mind a second to make the adjustment. She was still pumped up on adrenaline and every other natural endorphin that the human body produced in a fight or flight moment. In her case, it had been a crawl up into a ball and get shot moment. It wasn’t her proudest moment.
“Analysis complete.” There was a ping on her PAD as the results ended up in her mailbox. Those results were CC’d to her NCOIC and OIC, which were an actual officer and senior NCO thanks to the size of the Ranger compliment attached to the invasion fleet.
“Huh,” was her only response when she saw the results. She hadn’t actually died, but her medical code had dropped to red, and per the simulation’s programming, red meant she was out of the fight.
She did get to see the results of the ambush, the enemy KIAs, and the push to take the section of the city after Eve was gone. They all succeeded, and the knowledge that she’d been a critical part in that success was more than enough to compensate for her lightly-toasted virtual self.
<They’ll be at it for several more hours.> She knew these Division-level exercises could run for days, so she needed to report to her unit for something to do.
She’d been stationed on CWS Agincourt herself, and Aggie was one hell of a ship. To be precise, she was one hell of a big ship, and even though the giant VR section was in Infantry-country she still had a walk to get back to SPECOPS-land.
“Private First Class Berg,” a SGT was waiting for her when she got back, “it looks like you got turned into a human s’more.”
“Yes, Sergeant.” There was no good answer to the NCO’s statement, and her nerves were still a little flayed to come up with anything witty.
“Report back here at 1630.”
“Yes, Sergeant.” If she thought it was weird the NCO was giving her three hours off right in the middle of the duty-day, she didn’t question it. She’d been fighting in VR for the last six hours. She was exhausted.
Eve did what any good soldier did when they had some down time: grabbed chow, dropped a deuce, and got some sleep. When she walked back into the assembly area at 1625 there were more people waiting for her. The Ranger LT and GYSGT stood off to the side talking with each other and one other man. Two other Rangers that she vaguely knew from PT and formation stood a respectful distance away from them, but when one of them caught sight of Eve, he gave the LT a heads-up.
“Fall in, Private.” The LT was an older, grizzled veteran. A Ranger LT – in charge of one hundred of the most kickass soldier in the galaxy – wasn’t some shavetail right out of an academy. He was someone who’d nearly drowned in the shit and come out the other end, even if the Commonwealth had been forced to rebuild him in the process.
Eve jogged over to the center of the room and snapped to the position of attention. She expected the other three enlisted Rangers to join her, but they didn’t. She was standing there all alone. The LT and GYSGT came over to stand in front of Eve while the rest moved behind her. She felt them, but couldn’t see them in her peripherals. She was instantly on guard.
“Eyes front, Private!” The GYSGT snapped when he saw her scanning her peripherals.
She obeyed, even though she felt an iron weight dropping into her gut.
“Do you know what today is?” The LT asked.
“WRONG!” The GYSGT roared. “Drop and give me one-fifty.”
Eve knocked out the one hundred and fifty pushups in a minute and a half without breaking a sweat.
“I’ll give you another chance, Private.” The LT calmly asked again.
Eve gave her answer a few more moments of thought. “T-minus three days until we step off for the invasion, Sir.”
“WRONG!” The GYSGT didn’t even get to say the number before Eve dropped and started doing pushups.
She was down there for a while before she was ordered to recover.
“Junior enlisted nowadays,” the LT sighed. “No one stays up to date with their personnel files anymore.”
That was when things clicked, and Eve had to strangle a smile. She failed, the GYSGT saw it, and she must have done another five hundred pushups before the LT ordered her back to her feet. By now, her breathing was a little heavier.
“You get it now, Private?” It was clear this was the last time the LT was going to ask.
“Yes, Sir! My informal training period is over.”
“Hey-yo we’ve got a winner.” The GYSGT threw up his hands in mock celebration.
Eve stood a little straighter as he took out his PAD and pressed his GIC to the screen. There was only a few second delay before the Ranger tab appeared on her uniform. Despite doing her best, Eve teared up a little bit. She’d lived through hell to get that tab…literally. She’d spent months on a planet that couldn’t be anything but hell. She’d dropped in a Spyder onto an enemy-occupied planet. She’d killed in anger, nearly been killed half a dozen times, and helped fight off an army of scavenger bots in her spare time.
<I fucking did it.> She held her head up high and had to try with all her might not to look at the tab on her uniform.
“Welcome officially to Alpha Company, 33rd Ranger Battalion.” The LT stepped forward and shook her hand. The GYSGT followed the officer’s example. When they both stepped back, two people grabbed Eve by the arms.
She knew what was coming so she didn’t fight it.
“Congratulations, Berg.” The mystery man the GYSGT and LT had been talking to stepped into view. SGM Queen had a proud look on his face. “I told you right when we met that if you didn’t crap out on me I’d make you a Ranger. Now here we are. You did it without shitting the bed too bad.”
“Thank you, Sergeant Major.” Eve kept the tears out of her eyes.
“Don’t thank me yet.” With a deep breath the SGM reared back his fist and punch Eve hard in the chest.
The SGM was a big guy, and his fist hit like pistons, so it wasn’t a surprise when Eve felt something crack and breathing became a painful experience.
“Now for our last order of business.” The LT looked down at his PAD. “Attention to orders!” everyone, including the guys holding Eve up, snapped to attention.
What the LT read next she didn’t expect.
<What the shit?!> Unlike the tab, she didn’t even realize when her PFC rank disappeared and was replaced by the two chevrons of a Corporal.
“Congratulations, Corporal Berg.” The LT shook her hand.
She shook back with a confused look on her face.
“That MSM you got for surviving Hoplite helped your case, along with the Sergeant Major’s recommendation. All it took then was the Battalion Commander’s signature.”
“I don’t know what to say, Sir.”
“Don’t say anything yet.” The two guys grabbed her again and held her steady. “E-4 means four punches, and the tab punch doesn’t count.” The GYSGT reared back and delivered another blow to her gut.
He switched out and one of the guys holding her gave her a punch. He was also a corporal.
“Don’t let anyone one fool you, corporals run the company.” He whispered in her ear before switching with the other guy.
“We’ll catch up with you later to give you the four-one-one.” The other guy gave her another punch.
By now, Eve was pretty sure half her ribs were broken, and she was barely able to stay on her feet. Then the SGM stepped up again. He didn’t say anything. He just punched her a second time in the gut. It knocked the wind out of her, and made stars dance in her vision. When the other two CPLs released her she fell to her knees.
“Get her to sick bay.” The LT commanded.
“There’s a reason we do this on a Friday. Now you have all weekend to recover,” were the SGM’s parting words before the CPLs half-dragged her to sick bay.
Eve didn’t care though. <Suck it, Mom.> A savage smile split her face. <I did it.>