The chaos and carnage of the drop convinced Voss that this was not going to be a cakewalk. She’s going find out that being on the ground will not be easier.
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Nine hundred meters is normally not far for a Marine in armor. Exceptions would be in urban or rough terrain, or if there were enemy forces encountered in the advance. Both of these, I will note, were in full force at present.
The regimental command reported that the Gendarmerie had already engaged our forces in squad strength. From the antiaircraft fire that I could still see in the sky above, they were more heavily armed than the intelligence briefing had indicated. I didn’t blame Captain Arai, our intelligence officer, for this. All he had time to do was to pull the reports that 57th Mech had been issued. There’s a reason military intelligence is considered to be an oxymoron.
What military intelligence didn’t know, and had no way of knowing, was that a few days prior there had been a bloody riot between the city’s mostly ethnic Sassaeler citizens and the Lutean occupiers. (There were other ethnic groups in the Apinan Stars Alliance from other systems, but Luteans were the most prevalent and the ones hated most by Sassaelers.) In the weeks since the treacherous attack at Mitterstern Station, the relationship between the two groups had deteriorated severely. As a result, instead of a battalion or two of Gendarmerie, there was a light brigade stationed in Feinler, and they had been issued a few crew served weapons. Before we handily outnumbered the Gendarmerie and out gunned them. A Gendarmerie brigade was almost the same size as our regiment, though. Our normal edge in equipment and firepower was also undercut, as the Gendarmerie’s handheld weapons had been augmented with some rapid-fire railguns and blasters. They were shooting upward, for now, but those same weapons could easily be pointed horizontally.
Making matters more interesting for our band of wayward Marines, there was a Gendarmerie station almost exactly along our line of advance, two hundred meters in front of us. Thanks to the urban terrain, we were out of the lines of fire, but unless we swung north and added a significant distance to travel, there would be no way to avoid dealing with it in some manner. If we deviated too far south, we would stray close to another station.
My team and I had a spot in Kreiger’s platoon’s formation, a staggered column. We were moving along at a good clip, but nowhere near what the suit could pull. Everyone was too busy to sprint; checking corners, windows, balconies, or the vertical. Welcome to military operations in urban terrain, where the enemy shoots from above, too.
Whatever else, we were still Marines, elite and well trained. Kreiger barely had to manage anything on the advance. The squad leaders were on the ball with the few junior Marines that hadn’t seen as much combat experience as the rest of us.
The comm-net was a short staccato of reports: “window clear,” “open door, checked and closed,” “popping corner . . . clear, advance.” All of it was pretty standard until we heard blaster fire from the roof of the building above us and saw bright blue plasma bolts speeding up.
“We’re going to take that out,” Kreiger said. “First squad, find a stairwell in the building. Second squad, you’re going up the side, use the balconies. Both of you leave your rapid-fires behind. Third squad provide cover.”
The squad leaders all rogered up and got their squads moving.
The G339 rapid-fire railguns fired a larger round than the G75 model each of us carried. It also was able to fire at a rate more than four times as fast. However, it was a bulkier weapon with an additional powerpack carried by the assistant gunner and was not suitable for a close combat assault.
While first squad was pouring into the building, Kreiger turned to my team and me.
“Lieutenant Colonel Voss, if that’s okay?”
“Yes. Get it done, Lieutenant,” I responded. “We’ll stay with your security element.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Kreiger said and jumped up to grab the third-floor balcony.
I took a quick look at the building. With the balconies, it had to be a housing structure of some kind. And those Alliance bastards had decided to use it as a weapons position, knowing that we couldn’t attack them from the air without killing our own people. After a quick glance, I turned back out to look at third squad’s sergeant. The name stenciled on her armor said Adler. The opaque visor of Sergeant Adler’s helmet left her visage as much of a question as everyone else’s.
“Our team will take this corner, sergeant.”
“Aye, ma’am,” she said to me and got her squad moving out, putting fireteams on the other corners of the building.
“We should have bypassed this, ma’am,” Gunny Unruh said. It was unlike him to show restraint. “We need to link up.”
This was said to me, in private as we stared down the sights of the railguns, looking for enemies.
“Could go either way,” I admitted. “Though, there’s something to be said for aggression and a willingness to engage. Besides, I’d rather not leave a potential heavy weapon able to shoot us if we tried to bypass it.”
“Assault through!” Kreiger yelled over the comm-net.
There was a roar of jump jets as second squad launched themselves up the fourth-floor balconies onto the roof. First squad had found a hatch leading to the roof, and the Alliance Gendarmerie were caught by a crossfire of two squads of Marines. The fusillade lasted only a moment.
“Clear,” someone said.
“Spike the gun,” Kreiger ordered. “And bound down.”
The ground quaked as thirty-one metric tons of armored Marines landed followed by a small bang as the gun blew.
“They know we’re here now,” Captain Dur said to me.
“Yup. Gonna have to move with a quickness,” Master Sergeant Steiner agreed. We broke from our position and moved back into formation.
“Lieutenant Kreiger,” I said, with a hand signal for him to come over to me. When he had, I said, “Between us and the regiment is a Gendarmerie station. It’s one hundred and fifty meters up this road and then one block over. See it on your map?”
“Good. What we’re going to do is go to this intersection here, set up and lay down smoke and suppressing fire at the station. Once we’ve done that, bound across and then break for friendly lines.”
“Third battalion is already moving our direction. They’ve encountered light resistance,” Kreiger said. Someone in his chain of command had been keeping him apprised of the situation.
“Good. You need to link up with your company. First battalion needs to be going south in a hurry. Suppress and bypass.”
“Suppress and bypass, aye, ma’am.”
We broke back to formation, and he informed his squad leaders and platoon sergeant what was going to happen. We moved out at a run. If Third battalion was already moving in our direction, then they had secured the Administration Complex already. With the phase one objective accomplished, the maneuver battalions were advancing, and one of First battalion’s platoons was watching the grass grow with me, well out of position. Not to mention that I was spending more time making sure I didn’t get shot than to actually assist with the execution of this battle. A regimental staff with no operations team was woefully incomplete. Kreiger and I needed to get to where we were supposed to be, and fast.
“Alright, we’re here,” the point Marine said over the comm-net, stopping the formation. “Popping the corner.” He peeked his head around the corner for a second before pulling back. Then the corner exploded in dust and debris. “Yeah, they’re paying attention.”
“Get the rapid-fires up,” Kreiger ordered. “Move that vehicle for some cover.”
Some poor civilian was going to find their vehicle full of holes after this was over. Still, the large cargo truck should provide some cover for our rapid-fire railgunners to use while they suppressed the station. Four Marines in armor out-massed the vehicle and had no trouble moving it.
Kreiger’s platoon sergeant managed the rapid-fire gunners. “Stay behind the drive,” she said. “Anything else might as well be paper.”
Then the platoon sergeant tossed two full-spectrum smoke grenades out and they filled the air with a white fog. The gunner’s sensors had already imaged their fields of fire. The head-up display would keep the outline in their visor, so they could ensure their shots were hitting the station, even if they didn’t know what changes there were behind the smoke.
Rapid cracks filled the air as they started to fire. The actual firing mechanism of a rail gun had no moving parts and made no sound, but the projectiles were supersonic with a sonic boom. Marines started to bound across at a dead sprint, crossing the intersection in the barest blink of an eye. If the Gendarmerie had been equipped with armor, sensors, and targeters like we were, that would be enough time for them to try to acquire a target and fire, though that would be difficult with the smoke. Without it, they continued to fire more or less unaimed at the intersection hoping to hit something.
They got lucky. A bounding Marine was hit midair and he crashed to the deck in the danger zone.
“Corpsman up!” someone yelled.
God be with her, but the corpsman sprinted right out into the intersection and knelt down by the injured Marine, incoming fire kicking up chunks of the road all around them both.
“Get out of—” I didn’t finish my order as the corpsman was hit in the head. I cussed.
“Come on, Unruh. Let’s go make pickup,” Master Sergeant Steiner told her comrade.
The two Marines had several decades of experience between the two of them and they worked well together. They bounded into the intersection. Unruh sent a couple of unaimed shots through the smoke into the station with one hand, pausing long enough to grab the corpsman. When Steiner and Unruh had the corpsman, they sprinted out of the intersection to the other side, dragging her along.
Two of Kreiger’s Marines performed pickup on the other Marine, who was luckily still alive.
“Let’s go, Dur.”
“On your six, ma’am.”
We sprinted across the intersection. Some of the smoke was starting to clear. I could make out some of the details of the Gendarmerie station.
“Toss more smoke,” I said to Kreiger, who was directing fire on the far corner. He did so.
The corpsman had just gotten unlucky. It happens. Normally the helmet would stop a single round from handheld railguns. If she’d been hit half an inch to the right, it would have. But she had been hit right on the edge of the visor, and the round had penetrated, only to be stopped on the far side, leaving a small bulge in the armored part of the helmet. Just unlucky.
The Marine that had been injured had taken a round from something crew served—a heavy railgun too large for any single person to manage by themselves—in the leg. There was no way a hand-held railgun could have penetrated the armor plate head on. His right thigh was mangled and bloody with shattered shards of the armor plate stuck to the wound. He was unconscious at the moment from the tumble landing, and another Marine had pulled his helmet off, performing first aid.
The black-haired man looked decidedly average for a Sassaeler, maybe in his early twenties. The name stencil said Vamberfeld, but I didn’t recognize him. He was a Marine in my regiment that I couldn’t have pointed out as one of mine. In fact, most of the Marines in the regiment I didn’t know; I’d only been attached as the operations officer three months ago, when the regiment was formed into a maneuver element, a Regimental Combat Team. That was why we had a Weapons battalion.
Some of the more senior officers I knew. About a third of the field grade officers and I had been in at least the same battalion together at one point. Others I knew by reputation. But junior Marines like corporal Vamberfeld? They were only another face in the crowd. With their armor and helmets, they were not even a face.
“Friendlies coming from the west,” someone yelled.
Weapons were pointed anyways, but were lowered quickly. Forward elements from Third battalion had finally linked up with us.
“Do you have a corpsman?” Sergeant Adler asked the Third battalion Marine.
“Yes, sergeant,” he replied. I heard a muffled “corpsman up” from the helmet as he said it over his unit’s comm-net. “He’s coming.”
The corpsman came with Captain Falk, the commander of Company H, 3rd battalion. The corpsman got to work on Corporal Vamberfeld. Captain Falk came to me and Lieutenant Kreiger.
“Ma’am,” Captain Falk said by way of greeting. There was absolutely no saluting in the field. “We’ve got orders to ensure you and First battalion’s lost platoon can get back to friendly lines.”
“Outstanding,” I replied. “I take it we’ve reached friendly lines then?”
“Correct. You’re clear back to the Administration Complex, ma’am. Lieutenant, your company is southwest, about to engage another Gendarmerie Station, by that high-rise.” Falk pointed to a sixty-story tower to the southwest. “If you hurry, you can get in on that fight.”
“Yes, sir,” Kreiger said.
“So, break contact and go,” Falk told him.
“Aye, sir!” He turned to his Marines. “Second platoon, break contact and follow me.”
With a few final shots, his platoon fell back from the intersection, leaving the injured and dead. The vehicle was ribbons of twisted metal.
“We need to get this man to the aid station. He’ll live, but we need to make sure his femoral isn’t cut. The armor’s internal tourniquet is keeping him alive right now,” the corpsman told his sergeant. The sergeant looked to the captain, who was right there and had heard.
“We’ll take him,” I said. “The casualty collection point is right by where we’re going.”
“You’ll have to leave him in his armor, ma’am.” The corpsman reached into his bag and started to unfold a stretcher. “This is the only one I have.”
“Resupply is in place, per SOP,” I responded. I certainly wasn’t going to have one of my staff bring the stretcher back to the corpsman; I have no idea what he was thinking. “Steiner, Dur, get the stretcher. Unruh, we’re on security.” I hefted my railgun to my shoulder. “We’ve lollygagged enough today.”