Battle Luna – Snippet 05

“What, and have them delivered with sabotage and booby traps already in place?” Pappy shook his head. “They’re not that stupid.”

“At least they picked a wheeled rover instead of a tracked one,” KC said. “That could have been awkward. But you see up there on the sail? Those are the fish I was talking about.”

“I see them,” Pappy acknowledged. On both sides of the Dunsland’s sail the Ueys had welded one-man personnel cages, where watchful soldiers stood with Kord 9P150 light machine guns swivel-mounted on the front rims of their cages. Neither man carried a sidearm that he could see, but both had spare 150-round canisters secured to their utility webbing. Like the minesweepers and the shieldbearers, both were wearing torso vests.

But unlike the shieldbearers, their faceplates were presented nakedly to the sun and the harsh lunar environment.

And to the Loonies’ paintguns.

“So I’m thinking we go for those sail gunners first,” KC said. “Then the Dunsland’s viewports, then the minesweepers. How’s that sound?”

“Let’s do the minesweepers before the viewports,” Pappy said. “We don’t want the Dunsland stopping short just because the driver can’t see. By that same token, Morgan, they might speed up when the shooting starts, so be ready.”

“Got it,” Morgan said. “Looks like they’re going to hug the Waffle.”

Pappy nodded. They would have seen the other side of the ridge on their approach, confirmed that no one was lurking there, and now they would hug this side of the low ridge to guard against any last-minute attacks along that flank. “Just bear in mind that they could suddenly go into a zigzag if their commander smells a rat.”

“I’ll be ready,” Morgan assured him.

“Are we done talking yet?” KC said. The earlier amusement was gone from his voice, leaving just the original stress behind. Maybe he’d taken a good look at those Kord 9P150 machineguns.

“Almost ready,” Pappy soothed. “Let’s let them get just a little closer. When I give the word, you take the minesweepers, I’ll take the machinegunners.”

“Got it.”

Moving slowly and carefully, Pappy set his paintgun’s barrel on the edge of the foxhole, leaning down so he could look through his scope. He’d made sure the team’s spacesuits were painted with the best lunar rock camo Hadley’s artists and geologists could come up with, and their faceplates had been done up in a crosshatch that should provide similar protection without interfering too much with their vision.

But the guns themselves were too narrow for a proper silhouette-breaking methods, and while they’d been painted to match the local whites and grays the result was far from perfect. Given time, Pappy could have worked up some kind of shroud to do the trick, but time had been of the essence. Additional refinements would have to wait for Round Two.

Assuming, of course, the citizens of Hadley Dome survived Round One. Right now, that was still up in the air.

The Dunsland and its escorts were moving closer. Pappy peered through his scope, lining up the crosshairs on the left-hand machinegunner, reminding himself firmly that he’d already pre-ranged the scope for exactly this distance. Lunar drop was considerably less than on Earth, and of course there was no windage to worry about. All of that made targeting much simpler.

But the Dunsland was two hundred meters away. At that distance, even a spacesuit faceplate was a damn small target, not to mention the shot he was actually going for.

He took a quick moment to check his partners. To his left, KC was peering through his scope, his gloved finger resting on the trigger. To his right, Morgan was likewise watching the Ueys’ approach.

Unlike her companions, though, her hands were nowhere near her gun’s trigger. Instead, she was balancing a small relay box on her left palm, its protective cover open, her right forefinger resting on one of the two toggle switches inside.

It was the one piece of this plan that absolutely depended on a functioning radio, and Pappy sent up a quick prayer that the Ueys weren’t jamming all Loonie transmissions just for the hell of it.

He turned his attention back to his own scope. Almost time…almost…

Time. “Fire,” he said quietly. Holding his breath, he gently squeezed the trigger. There was a brief kick against his shoulder, hardly even noticeable through the heavy material and air pressure of his suit…

And a sudden blossom of red exploded across his view.

Not onto the machinegunner’s faceplate. Faceplates were the obvious target, and even an untrained miner like KC could hit that. Former SAS elites, on the other hand, should he held to higher standards.

And so Pappy watched in satisfaction as the thick red paint hit, congealed, and — hopefully — jammed the firing mechanism of the machinegunner’s Kord. The rest of the paint spattered harmlessly across the gunner’s torso.

“Got him!” KC crowed.

“Great,” Pappy said. The scope image abruptly blurred as the soldier swung his weapon around — “Now duck!”

Leaving his gun stretched out across the ground, Pappy bent his knees and dropped down out of sight. Just in time; a fraction of a second later the ground around his foxhole began exploding with dust and rock chips as the Ueys opened fire.

It was a curious sensation, watching the barrage take place without even a breath of an accompanying bang-bang-bang. His own shot hadn’t been so jarring, gut-level speaking — paintball guns were pretty quiet even on Earth, and it had been easy to get used to the loss of that small chuff up here. But Kords and MP5s were horrendously noisy things, and all the three-shot bursts popping soundlessly around him gave him the eerie sensation of suddenly having been struck deaf.

Which made Morgan’s sudden voice in his ear both jarring and a welcome relief. “Here they come,” she called. “Pappy? They’re almost there.”

“Yeah, I’m here,” Pappy said. Bracing himself, he eased carefully up again. The potshots were still coming, though the sheer ferocity of that initial response had faded as the Ueys apparently decided they were wasting ammo. It was a risk to show himself, but he needed to see this.

He made it back to viewing height without anyone putting a round through his helmet. Getting a grip on his gun, he refocused the scope on his earlier target.

One glance at the soldier fumbling with the Kord’s firing mechanism was all he needed to confirm that the paintball had at least temporarily put the weapon out of action. Smiling to himself, he lowered the scope to the tank’s front wheels.

The Dunsland had sped up, just as he’d warned it might, and was lumbering toward the innocent-looking crack in the ground where he and Morgan had set their trap. “Okay, get ready,” he said. He and Morgan had examined the undercarriages of every vehicle that fit the description of Tranquility’s observers, and he had no doubt that Morgan could do this without any help from him. But he’d been in enough high-pressure situations to know that having someone standing beside you, even figuratively, was an immense psychological help. The Dunsland rolled over the crack…

At Morgan’s electronic command, the crack erupted into a spray of compressed nitrogen and multiple coils of monofilament line. Even as the cloud of gas dissipated the tank rolled squarely into the floating loops, its motion tangling them around the wheels, the axles, and into every angle and nook of the driving motors.

And with an abruptness that would probably have been accompanied by an ear-wrenching screech if the vehicle had been on pavement on Earth, the Dunsland ground to a halt.

“We got it,” Morgan breathed, sounding immensely relieved and vaguely surprised. “It worked –“

She broke off as another volley of gunfire spattered silently around the foxholes. “Down,” Pappy ordered as he again ducked.

This time, though, a single salvo seemed to be all the Ueys were willing to spend. The bullets stopped flying; carefully, Pappy raised his head.