Battle Luna – Snippet 04

Mentally, Pappy shook his head. Body armor was all well and good; but with a helmet faceplate the size of a serving platter as an alternative target, all a torso vest really accomplished was to add weight, throw off balance, and encourage headshots.

Which could be a serious problem for the soldier inside. Modern spacesuits were self-sealing, and depending on how sophisticated a biomed kit you put in even chest wounds were reasonably survivable if the victim could be moved into a pressurized facility fast enough. But a round through the faceplate and anywhere into the skull was a probable lights-out. The Ueys were just damn lucky that the Loonies didn’t have any real guns.

And as for the long sticks they were carrying…

“You’re right, those aren’t rifles,” he told KC. “They’re mine detectors.”

KC made a long, rude noise. “Mine detectors? On the moon? Oh, that’s just too funny.”

“No argument here,” Pappy agreed with the first breath of humor he’d felt all day. Between the micrometeors, the condensate needles, and the various mascons, the moon was riddled with bits of relatively pure metal. If the detectors were set at a high enough sensitivity level, the soldiers could be out there for hours.

The real irony being that the meager weaponry Pappy and the others had available contained virtually no metal at all.

“And look how they’re walking,” KC said. “See that? They’re just walking.”

“I see it,” Pappy said. Walking — one foot in front of the other — instead of doing the little kangaroo hops that every Loonie quickly learned was the best way to get around.

“They can’t have been here more than two days,” KC continued, a new hint of hope in his voice. “Maybe less.”

“Tranquility said the ones they saw seemed to know what they were doing,” Morgan pointed out.

“Maybe all the competent ones went somewhere else,” KC said. “Maybe we got the runts of the litter. If they really don’t know what they’re doing, it could be the Winter War all over again.”

“The what?” Morgan asked.

“The Winter War,” KC said, his voice slipping into what Pappy had heard the other miners privately refer to as his professor mode. “Back in 1939 the Soviets rolled into Finland with an eye toward creating a buffer zone in case Leningrad came under attack. They had the numbers and the guns, but they had no idea what they were doing. They didn’t know how to fight in snowy forests, their winter clothing was ridiculously inadequate, and their olive-drab tanks and khaki uniforms stuck out in the snow like marker paint.”

“They’d also lost most of their officer corps in Stalin’s 1937 purge,” Pappy murmured. Over a century later, the lessons and tactics of the Winter War were still part of the SAS curriculum.

“Don’t know about the Uey officers, but that’s the Uey forces, all right,” KC said. “Charging onto our turf with no idea what they’re doing.”

“Maybe,” Pappy said. “You do know the Finns lost that war, right?”

“But they held out for a hell of a long time,” KC countered. “I’m just saying we’re starting out with the same home-court advantage the Finns did. And it’ll be a hell of a lot harder for the Ueys to bring in more troops than it was for the Russians.”

“Maybe,” Pappy said, pitching his voice for caution. Enthusiasm and confidence were necessary. Overconfidence could get you killed. “Morgan, you got them yet?”

“The minesweepers, yes,” Morgan confirmed. “The tank should be visible any minute. You should probably get your bombs ready.”

“Right,” Pappy said. “One at a time. I’ll load mine first; KC, keep an eye on them. Give me a shout if they do anything.”

He dropped into a squat, feeling a small and slightly irrational sense of relief as he temporarily left the enemy’s line of fire — small, because he would eventually have to stand up again; irrational, because there were such things as mortars. A small hop took him to the rear of his foxhole and his catapult.

The device was hardly a work of art. Still, for all the hasty welds and obvious scrap-heap sourcing of some of the bracing gear, it seemed functional enough. Its grooved ramp was about a meter long, its launch angle adjustable with a hand crank, and was coated with solid lubricant that would send the projectile on its way unhindered. The driving force was provided by a tank of compressed nitrogen, which fed into an intermediate chamber for more precise gaging of launch speed and power, and had a dual nozzle that could also take one of Pappy’s spare oxy tanks in a pinch. A printout of launch angles, compression levels, and range had been attached to the back near the compression gauge where it could be quickly consulted. Pappy had seen better, but he’d also seen far worse.

It was the projectiles themselves that concerned him.

He picked up the canister. While it was about the same size and shape as an oxy tank, it was considerably heavier. Heavy enough that he probably would have strained his back if he tried lifting it in Earth gravity. The shell was one of the many ceramics that the Loonies used in building, encased in one of the fracture webs miners like KC used to break off and fragment particularly useful rock outcroppings. Inside, mixed with some kind of propellant, was compressed vacuum cement of the sort used to repair damaged domes, vehicle frames, and pretty much anything else that didn’t need to move.

Which, of course, was the whole point of using it here.

If it worked.

“Morgan, you worked with the people who put these things together, right?” he asked.

“Not really,” she said. “But a friend of mine did, and I saw her report.”

“And they tested everything, right?”

“They tested all the components,” she said. “But they couldn’t do a field test. There isn’t a vacuum chamber big enough.”

“You’re joking, right?” Pappy growled. “The whole damn moon is a vacuum chamber.”

“Which the Ueys are watching like hawks.”

Pappy winced. “Of course they are,” he said. “Stupid of me.”

“Don’t worry, they’ll work,” Morgan assured him. “They worked fine in the simulations.”

“You want to know what we called simulations in the SAS?”

“Probably not.”

“More soldiers,” KC said. “Three — whoa. You seeing that?”

“I’m seeing it,” Pappy said grimly.

 Three more soldiers had appeared around the ridge, walking abreast about twenty meters behind the minesweepers. Unlike those first two, though, this group had their MP5s up and ready in hand. Also unlike the first pair, they held clear plastic riot shields in front of them, rectangles about a meter wide and a meter and a half long.

“Uh-oh,” Morgan murmured.

“Agreed,” Pappy said. The key to their strategy was to blind the Ueys with paintball rounds into their faceplates and viewports. With those shields in hand, they could take a lot of paint before their vision was even slightly impaired.

“Don’t worry about it,” KC said. “We’ve got other fish to fry, like you Brits say.”

“We never say that.”

“Well, you should,” KC said. “Wait just a second…let ’em come around the ridge…”

And then, there it was, rolling around Waffle Ridge: the Uey tank.

At first glance it didn’t look like much. It was a Dunsland 400-series, rolling along on eight sets of sponge-rubber, independently-axled tires. The body was about fifteen meters long and three high, with a submarine-style sail/conning tower rising from the main body a couple of meters behind the bow. The driver would be there, along with the observation and navigational gear.

Dunslands had been the workhorse vehicle early in Luna’s history, the first group of them shipping when there were only three domes instead of the current thirteen. But over the years, as the flaws in the design and operating systems had become apparent, they’d been phased out and replaced by vehicles of the Loonies’ own design. The few Dunslands still in service had mostly been converted to hauling ore in places where mass drivers weren’t practical.

A point that hadn’t been lost on KC. “Look at that,” he said scornfully. “We’re being attacked by museum pieces.”

“Probably all they had down there they could grab,” Pappy said. “They haven’t needed to make rovers for us since the Quatermass II debuted.”

“I’m surprised they didn’t just commandeer some of ours,” Morgan murmured.