Battle Luna – Snippet 06

His hope, between the paintballs and the monofil coils, had been to stop the Uey advance. For the moment, at least, they’d succeeded. The two minesweepers were heading back toward the Dunsland, one of them leading the other by the hand. The rearmost turned his head slightly, and Pappy could see the bright red splotch from KC’s paintball neatly covering his faceplate. The machinegunner whose Kord Pappy had disabled was still trying to clear it, while his partner on the other side of the sail kept his weapon trained on the foxhole area. Even through the bulky suits there was a stiffness to their stances that showed their frustration and anger. The three shieldbearers had also retreated a few paces and were now standing shoulder to shoulder a few meters in front of the Dunsland, also facing their Loonie opponents. The Dunsland’s rear side hatch had swung open, and a half dozen more Ueys were climbing awkwardly out onto the surface. Like the shieldbearers, they carried MP5s at their sides; unlike those other troops, they were carrying tools instead of shields.

“Are those wire cutters?” KC asked.

“Yes,” Morgan confirmed. She did something with her scope, probably zooming in a bit more. “A couple of them have small torches, too.”

Pappy smiled tightly. For all the good that would do them. From the strength of the monofil the Ueys clearly assumed it was wire, and were preparing their counter accordingly.

Only the stuff now wrapped tightly around their axles was probably too thin for standard wire cutters, and the synthetic material had a melting point that was almost certainly higher than that of the tank’s driving gear. Most Loonies had had experience with the stuff getting where it wasn’t wanted, and knew the only efficient way to deal with it was a specifically designed solvent.

But like most things about Luna and the Loonies, the people who ran United Earth didn’t have a clue about that.

“Looks like I’m up,” KC said briskly. “Pappy?”

“Go,” Pappy said. “But watch yourself — the man with the working machinegun looks seriously annoyed. Morgan? What’s his range?”

“One hundred eighty-three meters,” Morgan said.

“One-eighty-three, got it.” KC ducked out of sight.

The newcomers from the back of the tank were clustered around the front now, working no doubt industriously at the snarled axles. Pappy shifted his scope to the shieldbearers, still holding their ground in front of the tank, then at the machinegunners standing vigil above.

Should he try to lob in a few more paintballs while KC finished getting his bomb ready? There was no point in shooting at the shieldbearers — their shields were being held high enough to protect their faceplates. The repair crew, for the most part, had their backs to him, and were furthermore blocking any shot into the axle mechanism. He didn’t know if the paint would do anything to the heavier-duty gear there, but with the monofil in place there was no point in wasting ammo. Besides which, every shot he or the others took risked the Ueys zooming in on their exact locations.

But that remaining machinegunner was a tempting target, and well worth the risk of exposure. The soldier had his Kord leveled, which unfortunately put the firing mechanism out of Pappy’s reach, and in the man’s current semicrouch his shoulder and left arm were partially blocking his faceplate.

Still, most of the faceplate was visible. It was worth the risk, Pappy decided. Especially as it would provide some distraction until KC was ready —

“Bombs away!”

Pappy looked over just as the cylinder blasted out of KC’s foxhole, arcing its leisurely way toward the tank.

And that was that. When the bomb hit the ground by the wheels and blasted its cargo of cement into the drive mechanism, the Ueys might as well kiss the Dunsland goodbye and start walking. The only question would be whether they would walk toward Hadley Dome and try to attack on foot or else retreat back to wherever their local staging area was for this operation. The canister hit the top of its arc and started back down.

In perfect unison, the three shieldbearers jumped straight up, still shoulder to shoulder, the edges of their shields pressed together. They rose higher, their momentum and timing moving them directly into the cylinder’s path.

And as Pappy watched in disbelief and chagrin, their shields intercepted the bomb. There was a burst of foamy white liquid as the canister exploded —

And then the Ueys were floating back down to the surface. Their shields were now cemented solidly together, with the handful of stray tendrils that had flowed over the shield tops sticking rigidly out into space like frozen octopus legs. One tendril, thicker than the others, had managed to say liquid long enough to attach itself to the shoulder of the Uey on the end.

The shields had been rendered mostly useless. One of the soldiers would similarly be at minimal performance until he could get the cement off his suit.

But the Dunsland — the immobilizing of which had been whole reason for the bombs in the first place — had escaped unscathed.

“Well, damn,” KC growled. “How the hell did they know we had vac-cement bombs?”

“I doubt they did,” Pappy said. “The plan was just for them to block anything we threw at them.”

“Including real bombs?”

Pappy nodded. “Including real bombs.”

“Damn idiots,” KC muttered. “They could have died right there.”

“They’re soldiers,” Pappy said soberly. “That’s what soldiers do.”

There was a moment of silence. Across by the Dunsland, the three men and their — now — single shield were heading around the rear of the tank. One of them was trying to bounce, but the other two still insisted on using their awkward walk and the third gave up after a couple of steps and went back to doing it their way. “So it’s back to paintballs?” KC asked.

“At least until they clear out the monofil,” Pappy said, peering through his scope. Somewhere during the confusion the machinegunner he’d paintballed had disappeared from his cage, presumably going back inside where he could work on his Kord with fingers instead of gauntlets.

The other guard was still standing ready, though. He would be the first target, Pappy decided, followed by the Dunsland’s own viewports. As long as the vehicle was stalled, he might as well keep it that way as long as possible.

“Hold it,” Morgan said suddenly. “More company, coming around the Dunsland’s right side.”

Pappy scowled as he shifted his scope that direction. More company, and more shields. Three more shieldbearers had appeared from the rear hatch, moving briskly toward the front to take their cemented comrades’ positions.

“Damn,” KC muttered. “I was hoping to get another shot at the wheels.”

“We still might,” Pappy said, frowning at the untangling group by the wheels. They seemed to be having a conversation of sorts. Which, judging by some of the hand gestures, was becoming a little heated.

Morgan had noticed it, too. “What do you think they’re arguing about?” she asked uneasily. “Maybe whether to give up on the Dunsland and just go in on foot?”

“Will that get them what they want?” Pappy asked.

Morgan threw him a quick frown. “What?”

“The Mimic,” he said pointedly. “Can they get it out of Hadley without the Dunsland?”

“Who needs their Dunsland?” KC scoffed. “There are ten other vehicles that size in there they could commandeer.”

“And risk getting out in the middle of nowhere when the Loonies’ sabotage catches up with them?” Pappy shook his head. “I sure as hell wouldn’t take that risk with a borrowed vehicle. So; Morgan?”

“I can’t tell you, Pappy,” she said, her voice tight.

“You have to,” Pappy insisted. “I need to know what I’m working with. I need to know the parameters. I need to know what I’ve got in the way of bargaining position if it comes to that.”

Bargaining?” KC asked. “Who says we’re going to bargain with them?”

“If it comes to that,” Pappy repeated. “Morgan?”

“Hold that thought, Pappy,” KC said. “They’re up to something.”

Pappy looked back at the Dunsland. The Ueys had finished their discussion and four of the six headed back toward the rear hatch. They met the replacement shieldbearers halfway along the side and the two groups passed each other. “Giving up so soon?” he murmured.