Voss reaches friendly lines only to find out that things are not going well.
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Captain Falk was true to his word. No Luteans bothered us on the way to the Administration Complex. From the explosions I heard behind me, it seemed like the Gendarmerie station was not having too pleasant of a time, either.
The Administration Complex was comprised of many smaller squatter structures. Hundreds of years ago, before the city had been occupied by the Alliance, each of the corporate entities that managed the various assets of the city’s infrastructures had insisted on their own building. As a result, short walkways criss-crossed the grass linking the low buildings. The regimental surgery station was set up by the building that controlled the city’s heating steam supply. This was nearly across the complex from the surveillance and monitoring station, where the regimental headquarters was set up. However, we had to pass it on the way.
Once we got into sight of the casualty collection point, I got a sense of just how bad the drop was. Dozens of Marines were laid out in the grass, some still in armor, other stripped. Some had something to cover them; most did not. Corpsmen and doctors worked to save almost three dozen more injured Marines screaming in pain. Dur and Steiner added one more to the injured and made sure that the triage corpsman knew.
“We knew an assault drop on a city was going to be messy,” Unruh said as Dur and Steiner got the wounded Marine to the corpsmen.
“Yeah. It’s only going to get worse,” I responded.
“It’s Sassael. It’s worth it,” said Unruh.
“Worth what?” asked Dur as he came back to us, Steiner in tow.
“All this,” I said, pointing to the dead Marines in white arctic camouflage. Blood was soaking into the grass.
No one said anything as we went to the command post.
“Voss, glad you could make it,” Lieutenant Colonel Weiz said as we made our way in. She’d removed her helmet, and her blonde hair was slicked down with sweat.
“Sorry about that,” I said. “There were some rather unpleasant people that seemed to object to Sassaelers visiting their own planet.”
“I’m sure,” she said.
I unslung my railgun and set it against the wall. There was already a stack there; now that the drop was over, none of the senior officers would need them. The only reason we had been issued a railgun in the first place was because of the drop. As this not-quite debacle had demonstrated, a Marine never knew where they were going to land, or who they would be with. It was helpful in the few moments after a drop, where a Marine of any rank might be alone, for said Marine to have firepower available. Even then, mine was still unfired.
I removed my own helmet and clipped it to my chest while my team did the same. Then Weiz and I entered the repurposed conference room where the regimental command center had been set up. Dur took my two noncoms to find a spot of their own. Their role in this was to take in the data and reports supplied by the troops in the field and keep our tactical holo as up to date as possible.
“Lieutenant Colonel Voss, I’m glad you made it,” Colonel Stern said. His meaning was completely different. Weiz was teasing me about being late; Colonel Stern was expressing his happiness that I was alive.
“The dropship pilot panicked and hit the button way too early,” I said. “And if we hadn’t had friendly air cover, we might not have made it. An Alliance fighter killed three Marines just as fast as I can blink.”
I sucked some water out of the bite valve sticking out the neckpiece of my armor.
“It could have been worse,” he said. “Second battalion lost a whole dropship, with all hands, on the way down.”
I cussed. “Well, where does that put us?”
“We’re a little bit behind where we wanted to be,” Weiz said. “We were way more scattered on the drop than planned. First battalion had a whole company come down in the high-rise sector. They still don’t have complete cohesion.”
“The Gendarmerie are more heavily armed than reports indicate,” Captain Arai said.
“I’ve seen that first hand,” I replied, striving very hard to keep from snapping. It was hardly Captain Arai’s fault, even if it was his responsibility.
“At present, Lieutenant Colonel Ebner is the only one that’s actually on track,” said Colonel Stern. “First battalion is still reforming. Captain Nizumi and her company are stuck and scattered in the high-rise sector.”
I looked to the holo and the tracker on it before pressing a couple of buttons to highlight Alpha company. They were stuck and scattered, but not nearly as bad as they could have been. That was a bit of a relief.
“Sir, we’ve successfully hacked into the computers,” Captain Arai said. That would help his stock value. “We now have access to all the monitoring feeds. The ones that haven’t been destroyed, that is.”
“Good, work with Voss and get the enemy disposition plotted out,” Stern ordered.
“My staff also have someone we might want to talk to,” Arai said. “A worker here that we captured. He says he has information on the Gendarmerie.”
“Well,” Weiz told Arai with a ‘what are you waiting for?’ tone, “Bring him in.”
“Dur, Two Section is going to have some intel for you from the monitoring feeds. Get on it,” I said into my comlink, and he rogered up.
One of Captain Arai’s team brought in a Sassaeler man, wearing a pressed uniform, complete with jacket. There was a patch on the shoulder with the power company’s logo, a lightning bolt over a waterfall.
“So, you’ve collaborated with the occupiers, and now you want to make good?” Weiz sneered.
Colonel Stern held up a hand to silence her.
The power company employee shrugged. “There are three million Sassaeler in this city and they all need electricity. If working for the Luteans to make sure the lights stay on makes me a collaborator, then I guess I am, but I never helped them. I just looked out for our people.”
“We’re not here to hold judgement, right now,” Colonel Stern said. “We were told you had information that might be of used to us.”
The man nodded once. “Yes. Last week, there was a riot. It got pretty bad, seven Gendarmes were killed, and something like fifty citizens. So, the next day, they send in an intervention battalion of Gendarmerie. They have some armored vehicles and heavy weapons: real no-nonsense individuals, if you get my meaning. Most of the time, the Gendarmes aren’t that bad to deal with, but the intervention ones? Curfews, patrols, no exceptions for anything. There’s something like two hundred Sassaelers in detention because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. Or they were actual resistance.”
Most of the staff traded glances.
“Where?” asked Colonel Stern.
The power company employee walked over to our display holo and pointed to a building on the northwest side of the city, a kilometer past the Grozeuzig Loop.
“Right here,” he said.
“That’s past Second battalion’s limit of advance,” I said, looking to the colonel.
“Change it. Check it out, and if it’s all good, tell Lieutenant Colonel Ebner I want her to push past the loop, secure the prison facility, liberate the prisoners there, then fall back. Tell her to make sure she keeps track of the prisoners. We’ll need to sort out the good guys from the actual criminals once this is over.”
“Aye, sir,” I said and turned to the hatch, speaking in my comm-net. “Dur, where did you set up?”
“Go left out the hatch, down the corridor, fourth hatch on your left,” he answered.
“Okay,” I said, entering the room. “We have a new tasking for Second battalion. There’s an Alliance prison facility here.” I pointed to the place on the holo that the power employee had said. “We need a recon mission to check some intel. According to a local informant, there are two hundred Sassaeler political prisoners there. If that is true, Lieutenant Colonel Ebner is to push past the limit of advance and liberate the facility, then fall back, maintaining positive control on the Sassaeler prisoners.”
“What do we have that can recon that?” Dur asked the two noncoms.
“A camera drone can get eyes on the site easy enough,” Master Sergeant Steiner said. “But won’t really be able to check inside.”
“For that, we’re going to need boots on the ground,” Gunnery Sergeant Unruh agreed. “Lieutenant Colonel Ebner can send in a small recon team and hope they don’t get tagged, but it might be better to send a company in for some reconnaissance-in-force. If it checks out, she can bring in more Marines to bear.”
“Send a drone and at least get an overhead of the site,” I ordered. “Once we have that, we can go from there. I’ll be back in the command center. Tell me when you have what you need worked out.” At that moment, the holodisplay in the corner of the room sparked to life, the commercial unit for watching programs on the various networks. “Bit of a wrong time to want to watch game shows, isn’t it?”
“Wasn’t me,” Dur said. The two noncoms shrugged.
Anything else I might have said was interrupted by the three harsh tones of an emergency broadcast message.
“Attention citizens of Feinler City. An effort is currently underway by the Sassael Union military to liberate our homeworld from Lutean occupation. This effort is planet wide and not limited to Feinler City. Until the fighting is over, Sassaeler citizens are ordered to shelter in place. To shelter in place, citizens should go to the lowest level of the building they are in and find a room with no windows or exterior doors. Sassaeler citizens should not exit their building except for an emergency, such as fire.”
“Luteans, on the other hand, should wander out in the streets so we can shoot them,” Steiner quipped. I wasn’t the only one to snicker. If only.
“I guess Two Section got into the civil defense computers as well,” I said. “Great, now they know they’re being liberated. Get that drone looking and get back to me.”
Back in the conference room, I reported to Colonel Stern that we were on a plan to liberate the prison. Then I unstrapped my backpack and pulled out a foil package of crackers.
Chow, or eating, is continuous as we say in the Marines. Continuous is Marine speak for: you won’t actually have time set aside to do this, but you are expected to do it anyways. No one stops a battle for dinner time. (Sleep, by the way, is also something that is considered continuous.)
The Marines stuck fighting the Gendarmes wouldn’t have time to snack, but they had time to grab a few bites before drop. Before drop, all my time was spent frantically planning this whole thing. The only thing worse than dropping on a full stomach was dropping on an empty stomach as I found out.
Now that I had a few moments, I was going to eat a little bit of something. There was no telling when I would have time later.
“Air Defense is reporting incoming contacts two hundred kilometers to the west,” Lieutenant Colonel Lowe said.
His Weapons battalion was mostly set up with the rest of the regimental headquarters. Both the Mortar company and the Air Defense battery were deployed at the Administration Complex. The two heavy rapid-fire railgun and plasma blaster companies were currently being held in reserve as well. So, it made sense that Lowe would be at the command center.
Colonel Stern turned to his comm operator. “Get that up to 1st MAF. They can see if there are any bored Navy pilots in the area.”
1st Marine Attack Force under General Beck was our dedicated liaison between the Marines and the Navy. 7th Marines had been given a flight of Eagle fighters for close air support—a detachment from Dragon Squadron—but for air cover against enemy fighters, we would ask 1st MAF. The general’s staff would ask Navy Space Control if they had fighters that were in position to cover us.
I was reminded not to forget to find out the name of the pilot that saved us on the way down and buy her some expensive alcohol in thanks.
“Yes sir,” the comm operator said, turning to his unit. “Sword, Sword, this is Winter, over.”
I didn’t pay attention to the rest of the broadcast, but looked to the holo. I tapped a few buttons to highlight Nizumi’s company.
“Why is she headed north? They need to be moving south; Phase Line Midnight is south,” I said.
“No idea,” Colonel Stern said to me, frowning. He tapped his comm-net on his ear. “Frost Six, this is Winter Six Actual.”
“Go for Frost Six,” came the reply on the regimental comm-net.
“Put Frost Six Actual on, over,” Colonel Stern said in a no nonsense voice. There was a pause.
“Winter Six, this is Frost Six Actual,” Lenz said.
“Frost Six, why have you not advanced through the high-rise sector yet? Over.”
“The Gendarmerie station on the north side is significantly reinforced. Break. Currently, Alpha is flanking around to the west. Over.”
“Frost Six, you light a fire under you and get moving. You need to be at Phase Line Midnight by five minutes ago. Winter Six, out.”
I tapped the holo again. “He’s two hundred meters south of us. His whole staff is there. What’s he doing, having a meeting?”
“God only knows,” Colonel Weiz said.
Outside, the sonic booms of 25mm railguns firing vibrated through the building. Air defense had acquired targets.
“Lieutenant Colonel Voss,” Colonel Stern said.
“Go personally to Lieutenant Colonel Lenz and light a fire underneath him. Get that battalion moving south.”
Right before I strapped my helmet on, I could hear explosions from the outside, from what seemed like above me. Air defense had evidently found one of their targets. I couldn’t resist looking up as I exited the building, to take a look at the fighters streaking across the sky. It looked like some of ours had arrived and were mixing it up with the Alliance; one was streaming fire and debris as it fell in an uncontrolled dive. I zoomed the optics on my visor to see whose it was—one of ours. Hopefully, it wasn’t the same pilot that saved us.
That was enough seconds wasted. I found Lenz’s beacon on my visor’s overview and bounded towards him. God preserve me, he was having a staff meeting. Six Marines were circled around a holoprojector; I was going to have something to say about that.
I never got the chance.
At almost three times the speed of sound, an Alliance Phantasm fighter crashed right on top of them. I turned and dove for the deck by reflex as the reactor blew. Immediate action for an unplanned close detonation was for the Marine to turn the faceplate of the helmet away from the blast, covering with the hands as possible, and to tuck the arms in as to cover the weaker armpit and elbow joints.
This would not have helped Lieutenant Colonel Lenz and his staff, but it helped me. The explosion battered me to the deck and rolled me sideways a couple of times. My armor was peppered by shrapnel, but not penetrated.
“Corpsman,” I yelled by instinct. Not that it would do Lenz a lick of good.
“Winter, Winter, this is Frost Seven,” a voice said over the comm-net. “Frost Six is down. I say again, Frost Six is down.”
Frost Seven was the callsign of Master Gunnery Sergeant Blum, First battalion’s senior noncommissioned officer. He’d been standing almost right beside Lieutenant Colonel Lenz, and survived, because of course. A bunch of officers get killed, but the NCO walks away fine? That’s God’s sense of irony. Frost Six was down. The rest of the Frost command callsigns were just as down, but not Frost Seven. What a charlie-foxtrot.
A corpsman made her way over to me, turning me on my back.
“I’m fine,” I told her. “Go check them.”
Fine was a relative term. It took me a moment to get to my feet; I’d taken quite a blow.
“What happened?” Lieutenant Colonel Weiz asked, bounding over to me.
“A Phantasm decided to land on Lieutenant Colonel Lenz without stopping first,” I answered. “And because he had his whole damn staff right there, every senior officer in First battalion is dead.”
“God, what a charlie-foxtrot,” she said.
“Yup. Major Kenp is next in line.” Major Kenp was the commander of First battalion’s Weapons company. He’d been through the suck a few times; I’d served with him before when I was the executive officer of 2nd Battalion, 14th Marines. He’d been a company executive officer then.
Weiz was about to respond when the regimental comm-net cut her off.
“Winter Three Actual, this is Winter Six Actual.”
“Go for Winter Three Actual,” I said.
“Three Actual, you’re to take command of Frost. How copy?”
“Good. Get that battalion moving south.” Colonel Stern switched to First battalion’s comm-net. “All Frost callsigns, this is Winter Six Actual. Winter Three Actual is now in command of Frost. I say again, Winter Three Actual is now Frost Six Actual.”
While the colonel was informing First battalion what was going on, I was talking to my team.
“Captain Dur, did you get that?”
“We heard,” he replied.
“I’m sure you all can manage just fine. Report to Lieutenant Colonel Weiz with any problems.”
“Roger. God watch over you, ma’am.”
I looked to Weiz and said, “It looks like I am going to be busy. My team is good; you shouldn’t have any problems. They should have the plan for the prison liberation soon.”
“We’ll handle it. Good luck,” she said and bounded away.