Battle Luna – Snippet 03

He grimaced. If, hell. When. There was no point in bringing all these men to Luna and not making as much noise and fury as possible. Even if they decided to start with some of the other domes, sooner or later they would come to Hadley.

“Is that dust?” KC asked suddenly. “Pappy, is that dust over there?”

Sooner or later; and apparently, sooner. “Where?”

“Just past the end of the Cross-eye,” KC said. “Morgan, you might not be able to see it from your angle.”

“Wait a second,” Pappy said, frowning out into the distance. He’d never heard of any formation near Hadley called the Cross-eye. “Past the end of the what?”

“Sorry — the end of Waffle Ridge,” KC said. “Cross-eye’s what miners call that kind of formation.”

“No, I can see it,” Morgan said, bending over her compact rangefinder scope. It was the best scope in Hadley, and given that geosurveyers used that kind of gear all the time, it made sense that it had been assigned to her.

Still, it made Pappy’s fingers itch that it was on the edge of her foxhole and not attached to his rifle.

His rifle.

Stooping down, Pappy picked it up by its long barrel from where it rested against the rough wall of his hastily-excavated foxhole. His rifle. The Ueys would have semis and full-autos, maybe even small cannon or rockets. Real military weapons.

He and the other Loonies had paintball guns.

They were very good paintball guns, of course. Unlike their Earth-bound toy brethren, these were tools, with the range and accuracy to mark potential mining targets people like Morgan found, sometimes from as far as a kilometer away. She and KC were supposedly two of Hadley’s best shots, but there hadn’t been time for Pappy to give him a full field test before they’d been hustled out here to stand between the dome and the Uey advance.

“It’s dust, all right,” Morgan confirmed. “About three hundred forty meters out. Doesn’t look like a meteor strike. I guess they’re here.”

Pappy hissed out a silent sigh. Apparently, his team’s field test was starting now. “Okay,” he said as calmly as he could. “KC, give Hadley a heads-up. Morgan, any idea what size party they’re bringing?”

“Not really,” Morgan said. “But I know that particular dust pool. Give them another fifty meters, and I should be able to tell if it’s one tank or more.”

One tank or more. Terrific. “Keep watching,” Pappy ordered. “KC, give Hadley a head’s-up.”

“Right.” Across to Pappy’s left, KC unplugged their local comm cable from his suit’s junction box and plugged in the one that slithered down the ground behind him and disappeared into the dogleg that led back to Hadley Dome. Radio communications on Luna were encrypted for privacy, but no one seriously believed the Ueys couldn’t decrypt them if they wanted to badly enough. Wired communications were awkward and fragile, but it was the only way to maintain at least a modicum of secrecy.

Pappy lowered his eyes to the meager collection of equipment in his foxhole. He had his paintball gun, complete with an improvised and highly inadequate scope, and two spare canisters of ammo. At the back of the teardrop-shaped hole was his catapult, also hastily constructed, and a cylinder a shade smaller than a standard oxy tank that was filled with a combination of propellant and vacuum cement. Beside the catapult was a suit repair kit and two spare oxygen tanks, plus some replacement struts and a small welding torch in case the catapult broke while there was still time to repair it.

And propped up against the side wall was a coil of monofilament line, two hundred meters long and half a ton test.

He eyed the monofil with a mixture of frustration and regret. There were so many things a clever soldier could do with high-stress thread. So many things he’d wanted to do with it. But the Ueys had moved faster than anyone had expected, and he’d hadn’t had time to rig even half the traps and snares he’d hoped to create before he and the others had been ordered back to their foxholes.

He’d argued about it at the time, but Hadley had insisted. In hindsight, given that the Ueys were apparently here, it was probably just as well they’d pulled back.

He gave his equipment one last scan, reflexively memorizing positions in case he had to grab for something without looking, then turned back to the front. Hadley was supposedly throwing together more equipment for the upcoming battle, but it wasn’t going to get here before the Ueys did. He could only hope that the haste of the Ueys’ advance meant they were just as ill-equipped as the Loonies.

To his left, KC again swapped out his comm cables. “Okay, Hadley’s cranking up the mass drivers in case they try a sky assault,” he said. “Spotters aren’t showing anything flying in the area, but that could change at any minute.”

“Did they say anything about our Uey tanks?” Pappy asked.

“I asked, but they can’t see anything out here,” KC said. “Too much stuff in the way.”

“Anything from the rest of the perimeter?”

“Nothing they thought worth telling us.”

“There won’t be,” Morgan said.

“Won’t be what?” Pappy asked. “Sky assaults or other perimeter movement?”

“Neither,” Morgan said. “They’re not going to try walking soldiers over the ranges until they try the tanks first, and this is the only route wide enough.”

“Unless they drop something into the dome first,” KC said. “Even if they don’t want to start off with mass slaughter, they could drop a javelin or something into the entry foyer. That probably wouldn’t hurt anyone, but would prove they could do it.”

“They won’t,” Morgan said. “They can’t risk damaging Hadley or any of the other domes.”

“That’s the second time you’ve said that,” Pappy commented, eyeing her. “Seems to me that KC’s got a point. Bombing an enemy’s capital is a traditional way to prove it’s not invulnerable. And a javelin or a few rounds of small-gauge cannon fire would seal so fast that we wouldn’t even lose much air.”

“It’s –” Morgan broke off. “I just don’t think they want the bad publicity, that’s all.”

“Uh-huh,” KC said knowingly. “With eighty percent of the public already on the Ueys’ side? Come on, Morgan. You know something, don’t you?”

There was a long pause. “I’m sorry,” she said at last. “I can’t talk about it.”

“You can’t talk about the Mimic?” Pappy suggested.

She shot him a hooded look. “I said I can’t talk about it.”

“Come on, Morgan,” Pappy cajoled. “We’ve all heard the rumors. Hell, we’ve all heard the name. If we’re going to die out here, I’d like to know it’s not just because United Earth is stiffing us on chromium prices.”

“You’ll know when everyone else does,” Morgan said firmly, turning back to her scope. “All right. I’m calling it a single tank. Could be something smaller leading it, though. Maybe a runabout?”

Pappy turned back to his own scope. To him, the dust looked exactly the way it had before, with no reason to call it a single tank or a pair of them. Or a herd of elephants, for that matter.

But Morgan was the expert. “So a tank, plus an outrider,” he said.

“Or no outrider, but a couple of soldiers,” KC put in. “There they are, just coming around Waffle.”

Pappy shifted the direction of his scope. All he could see from his angle was the ridge itself. But if the Ueys were coming in from the right, as the dust cloud suggested, then KC would see them first. “You say there are two of them?”

“Two in front,” KC said. “Might be more behind them. They’ve got some kind of — I don’t know. Long sticks or something. Don’t look like rifles.”

And then, coming around the ridge, there they were.

There were two of them, just as KC had said, dressed in some strange hybrid of Uey spacesuit and Uey body armor. The spacesuit was the base garment, the same type the United Earth administrators used at their bases at Tranquility and Hippalus. The same type, moreover, that the Loonies themselves had originally been saddled with before they’d made some sorely needed improvements. On top of the suits each of the two soldiers was wearing a heavy-looking torso vest, a slightly cheaper-looking version of the kind of armor Pappy had worn in the SAS. They had long-barreled machine pistols belted at their hips, probably modified MP5s or some knock-off.