It’s up to Voss to get this battle turned around. However, there is a new threat.
The complete novella is on sale at Amazon in ebook or paperback.
Under a running pace, there is a point at which both feet of the runner will be off the ground. In fact, the less ground contact, the faster the runner goes. Thanks to extensive cybernetic augments and my powered armor, my feet barely made contact with the ground. Incidentally, this is why we usually say that Marines bound when they move at a run. Right now, I was bounding over to Charlie company’s commander, Captain Schumann.
“Captain Schumann,” I yelled. “Why are we still stuck here and not at Phase Line Midnight by now?”
“Ma’am, the station has been extensively strengthened. We already tried one assault and were pushed back. They have some heavy blaster cannons and a shield generator. Lieutenant Colonel Lenz had ordered Alpha company to move north and flank it,” he said. “Since then, we’ve launched a few probing attacks.”
“Are you waiting for God to come down and hand you an assault plan? Here’s what you’re going to do, captain. I’m going to call in a mortar strike—”
“We already—” Captain Schumann said, interrupting me. I raised my hand to silence him. Even though my visor obscured such a gesture, I glared, too.
“Even with the shield generator, it will keep their heads down. After that, you and your company are going to assault that position in close combat. Do you understand?”
“Aye, aye, ma’am.”
“Speed and violence of action, captain. If you cannot get this done, I will find someone who can. Go brief your platoon commanders.”
I turned away. Master Gunnery Sergeant Blum waited until after we were out of earshot of Captain Schumann before speaking.
“If they go straight up the middle right at the enemy, Charlie company is going to take some significant casualties, ma’am,” he said.
“We’ve spent enough time standing around watching the ice freeze,” I replied. “Where’s the comm operator?”
“Corporal Dieter died in the crash.”
“There has to be someone else in the headquarters platoon that’s a qualified comm operator.”
The battalion commander for each battalion had a dedicated support platoon. This was comprised of the battalion staff—who were all dead—a squad of Marines to keep the battalion commander from being interrupted while he tried to command the battle, a medical section, an armorer section to maintain the suits and armor, and finally a comm section. The comm section is what I was interested in at the moment.
“I need a comm operator,” I called out to the headquarters platoon.
At the moment, anyone that wasn’t actually performing their primary task was looking outward, pulling security. A female Marine looked in.
“I can do it,” she said. That’s the kind of answer I like to hear.
“Good. You’re it.” I gave her the hand signal to come to me.
“Lance Corporal Beck, ma’am,” she said, saving me the trouble of reading the stenciled name off her armor. (I asked her later; no relation to Captain or General Beck.)
“Call Hailstorm. Tell them I want a battery three on Gendarmerie station number seven. High explosive, eight meters standard deviation.”
“Aye, ma’am,” she said and switched to the fire support comm-net. “Hailstorm, Hailstorm, this is Frost.”
“Charlie Six, this is Frost Six. Mortars incoming,” I said on the battalion comm-net
“Copy Frost. We’re ready.”
“Break, break. Alpha Six, this is Frost Six. Over,” I said to Captain Nizumi. Now that I had hopefully unfouled Captain Schumann, I needed to get Alpha company moving south.
“Go for Alpha,” a male voice said. Captain Nizumi’s comm operator, no doubt. I was vaguely disappointed that I didn’t get to talk to her directly. I considered telling him I wanted to talk to Six Actual, but decided against it.
“Alpha, your orders are to get that company turned around and headed south. There’s another Gendarmerie station that is at the south edge of the high-rise sector of the city. Assault and clear it, then move to Phase Line Nocturne. Hold there until further orders. Over.”
“Alpha copies all, Frost,” Captain Nizumi said. Her alto voice was a pleasant surprise. She’d been listening. Finally, someone I could count on.
“Nizumi, move fast,” I told my friend. “We are way behind.”
“Don’t worry, Kara; we’re on it.”
I didn’t worry about her breach of military comm etiquette. She was telling me that she was going to get it done, and I could rely on her. Frankly, there was no one else I would rather have leading the tip of my advance.
“Copy. Winter—Frost Six, out.”
I gave orders for Bravo company to also advance south, although they didn’t have a Gendarmerie station to worry about. I sent Weapons company to go support Nizumi.
Even through the shock absorbers of my armor, I felt more than heard the impact thunderstorm of the mortar rounds. I saw the shield around the station flash to opaque as it absorbed the blasts. The dispersion was good. Parts of the building that were not covered by the shield blew apart. Glass shattered in buildings even a hundred meters away. Someone was going to get rich repairing windows after this.
Thanks to the drones flying above the city, our indirect fire was pinpoint precise. The mortar battery could have sent every single round onto a target no more than a meter across if they had wanted too. It might have been enough to overwhelm the shield, but we could not be certain of that. With the dispersion, anyone that wasn’t within the shield was going to get hit. Only thirty seconds after the mortar barrage had started, it ended, though the booms continued to echo off the high-rises.
“Attack!” Captain Schumann yelled, as he bounded forward. At least he had the courage to go on the assault himself.
The rest of the company followed, bounding over buildings, using their jump jets to get over the three and four story buildings. Schumann had detailed two of his platoons to rush the objective, one to support by fire. Their fire kept the shield opaque so that the defenders couldn’t accurately target the assaulting Marines.
Even still, there was a significant amount of fire spewing out of the Gendarmerie station. The heavy blaster that Schumann had briefed me on was particularly deadly. Each time a bright blue, high-energy plasma bolt connected with a Marine, the Marine went down. If they were hit in the torso, they died. The lucky ones lost a limb. Five Marines were killed crossing the distance by the heavy blaster alone. Others were killed by explosions.
“What kind of Gendarmerie has grenades?” Blum asked. It might have been rhetorical.
“No-nonsense individuals,” I replied, using the phrase from the power employee. “The citizens here rioted and actually killed some Gendarmes not too long ago.”
“Good for them,” Blum responded.
One of the armored vehicles that had also been mentioned made an appearance. The vehicle had the same sleek curved lines that Alliance fighters had. To make matters worse, instead of the sonic crowd control cannon, it had a rapid-fire blaster turret on top. The vehicle raced out and put itself right in the line of advance of the advancing Marines. Our support by fire elements shifted their fire to the vehicle, but the rail guns seemed to have no effect. A rocket fired at the vehicle glanced off the armor, a poorly aimed shot.
It was finally destroyed when a Marine jumped up on top and ripped open the hatch. He dropped in a grenade and bounced off right as it detonated. All the hatches on the vehicle blew out.
The Marine never made it to the deck. He was hit by the heavy blaster in the air.
“If every station is like this, we’re in trouble,” Blum told me, watching the carnage.
“They’re not. The one I passed after drop was nothing like this.”
The Marines were at the shield now, passing through it. A loud bang threw up dust, but I could see the shield flicker out. Accurate fire was now being sent at specific targets, and the heavy blaster had fallen silent. More explosions from more grenades, both friendly and hostile thundered, but now we clearly had the upper hand. The support by fire platoon was now bounding to the station.
Ninety seconds later, the shooting had stopped. I bounded to the blown out structure that used to be a Gendarmerie station with the rest of headquarters platoon in tow. One of the hardest things to get used to as I got promoted was not actually getting engaged. I liked shooting Luteans as much as any Sassaeler Marine. God knows that killing Luteans is the most fun I ever had, but that wasn’t my job. My job now was to command, to watch my Marines go off and fight.
“Ma’am, the structure is secure and clear,” Captain Schumann reported. “Eighteen Marines KIA, six wounded. I have five more Marines that have armor damage that render them combat ineffective.”
I nodded to the captain and turned to Lieutenant Katz, the commander of the headquarters platoon. “Get your medical and armor sections up to support.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, bounding off to arrange it.
“Ma’am, Lieutenant Kreiger was the one that got that vehicle,” Schumann said. “He’s dead.”
“He’ll get a medal for it,” I replied, looking at the snow white armor surrounding dead Marines and the bodies of the Alliance Gendarmerie laying on the deck. The bodies of the Marines were mostly whole, with holes in the armor. Now and then, there would be a mangled form where one had been hit by the blaster. The Luteans, though, were in pieces. The assault had been savage.
“Good job on the assault, captain. Get your company reformed and start heading southeast. You’re going to be my eastern flank. There’s a Gendarmerie station at the southern edge of the high-rise sector that Captain Nizumi should be attacking momentarily. That will be the dividing spot between you and Alpha company.”
“Ma’am,” he said. “If we just had a little bit more time, we could have done this with fewer casualties.”
“We didn’t. Get moving.”
He turned to his company and I bounded away to find Katz.
“We’re currently moving the wounded to the CCP,” he said. “And there are three of the armor failures that the armorers say they can repair in a short time. Two are going to need some extensive replacements. We’ve sent them to regiment.”
“Good. Make sure that Charlie company knows headquarters is taking over pickup of their KIA,” I said.
Captain Schumann was right. If we had more time, we could have cleared the station with a lot less casualties. But we didn’t have the time. There was an Alliance Army battalion to the south and we had to keep them from entering the city. If they did, we would have to fight them in the city, and a lot more Marines would get killed. Captain Schumann and the rest of his company probably had a low opinion of me right now, but in the long run, the hasty attack saved lives. It was a cold calculation to make, but it was true. Even as I watched the dead Marines being taken out of their armor for pickup to the casualty collection point, I knew it was the right choice.
I hadn’t even flinched when Schumann told me Kreiger had been killed. I regretted his death; he was a fine officer. Kreiger would have made a better company commander than Schumann. God knows Kreiger was more aggressive. I took a moment to try to remember his face; however, try as I might, at that moment, I could not. Right now, the lieutenant didn’t have a face. Nor did the lieutenant have much of a chest.
I didn’t have anymore time to waste trying to remember; we had work to do. Lieutenant Katz was arranging a detail to get the wounded and dead back to the casualty collection point. With the casualties out of their armor, a Marine could carry two of the fallen easily. Charlie company was finally advancing south. More importantly, two comm reports demanded my immediate attention.
“Ma’am, Bravo Six reports they’ve reached Phase Line Midnight,” Lance Corporal Beck told me. “They’re standing by to advance to Phase Line Nocturne.”
Captain Dur spoke in my ear before I could respond to her. “Boss, you need to hear this.”
“Wait one,” I told him and turned to Beck. “Tell Bravo to have their route to Nocturne and the Gendarmerie station there reconned and ready to go, but hold the main force until the rest of the battalion is reformed.” Beck turned and started to send out my orders. Then I switched to my staff’s comm-net. “Okay, what’s so important.”
“Third battalion took in an EPW,” Dur replied. EPW was Marine speak for enemy prisoner of war. “Not Gendarmerie, but Alliance Army. Intel worked on him and got out that the Alliance battalion to the south is stronger than we thought.”
“How much stronger?” I asked. This day was just getting better.
“They have a company of tanks attached.”
I cussed. “Well, have you confirmed that?”
“They’re throwing up a lot of interference. Every time we try to get a drone close enough to get through their veiling screens, it gets knocked down. So, we don’t have confirmation, but Intel has a high confidence the EPW is telling the truth.”
“So, you’re telling me that the enemy strength could be considerably higher than we thought, and that you don’t know exactly where they are.”
“Any idea how far into the city they could be?”
“This is the good news,” Dur said. “If they stick with the tanks, there is no way they are at the river yet. Their infantry elements could be across the river, maybe, but only if they moved pretty soon after we dropped.”
“We can take that as worst case, but it’s not likely.” An armored Marine going full out could have gotten from the garrison to the river in about half an hour. Unless the Allies had formed and were moving in under eight minutes—not likely at all—they were still not at the river.
“No, it’s not,” he agreed. “But it gets a lot more likely in about ten minutes.”
“I don’t know if First battalion is going to be at Onyx in ten minutes. We’ll push it. How are the other battalions doing?”
“Second battalion is actually at their limit of advance, conducting a recon on the prison. Third battalion has faced some pretty stiff resistance. They still have four stations to take out.”
“Understood. We’re going to try to get to Onyx before they cross.”
“We could blow the bridges.”
I racked my brain for what we knew on the bridges. “Two of them mortars could take out. The third, though, the Alliance rebuilt. It’s strong enough that to actually take it out we’d have to drop tactical antimatter on it, or get some of the ships in orbit to take shots at it. Send that up to the colonel and see what he says.”
“Will do. Out.”
“Beck!” I yelled. “Find out how many rockets we’ve expended across all companies.”
Of all our weapon systems, the only thing that could reliably take out a tank was our rockets. Well, there was one other reliable, if dangerous way: what Lieutenant Kreiger had done to the armored personnel carrier. However, that kind of attack on a tank with multiple turrets and the tracking computers to control each one would be costly. And these Alliance tanks had infantry support. We had to move.
“Frost, this is Alpha Six. Over,” Nizumi said over the comm-net.
“This is Frost; send your traffic,” Beck responded.
“Alpha has secured the station. Nine casualties. Over.”
I cut in before Beck could. “Outstanding job, Alpha. Get your company moving south to Phase Line Nocturne. Frost will worry about your casualties. Break, break. Froststorm Six, this is Frost Six. Over.”
“Frost Six, this is Froststorm Six,” Major Kenp said.
“Froststorm, head southwest. Bravo company has one more Gendarmerie station to deal with. Be ready if they need your support.”
“Froststorm copies all.”
“Frost, out.” I turned to the headquarters platoon. “Katz, let’s get moving.”